England captain Houghton is major doubt for World Cup quarter-final

England captain Steph Houghton is a major doubt for Thursday’s World Cup quarter-final clash with Norway, manager Phil Neville has announced.

Houghton was on the receiving end of a tough challenge towards the end of the 3-0 round-of-16 win over Cameroon and is struggling with an ankle issue as a result.

Neville, who also said defender Millie Bright is also a doubt through illness, is hopeful Houghton will train on the eve of the game before making a final decision.

England v Cameroon – FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 – Round of Sixteen – Stade du Hainaut
Match referee Qin Liang, third left, intervenes after Cameroon’s Alexandra Takounda, fifth right, fouls England’s Steph Houghton (John Walton/PA)

“Both are major doubts,” he said of Houghton and Bright.

“Steph because of the tackle, we are hoping she takes part in some training today, that is the key for Steph.

“Millie has got a virus that is going a little bit through the camp so she is probably more of a doubt than Steph. We are going to give them right to the last minute to be fit.”

Losing his centre-back pairing from the Cameroon victory may be seen as a challenge for Neville as he looks to guide the Lionesses into the last four.

England v Cameroon – FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 – Round of Sixteen – Stade du Hainaut
England’s Millie Bright, right, has a virus (Richard Sellers/PA)

But he has backed their possible replacements and insists he is calm about the situation.

“You guys (the media) have had an obsession with my rotation for the last 18 months,” he said.

“What I would say is that the players we have played, for instance Leah Williamson playing against Japan at SheBelieves, Abbie McManus played in the first two games of SheBelieves.

“Abbie’s form over the last 18 months, it is for moments like this that we can just say ‘no problem’, Steph, Millie, whatever. We just bring two people in who know the system and the style and have utter belief and confidence in each other.

“It is a seamless transition, you plan for these moments. I said six months ago that we don’t want to get to the quarter-final of a World Cup and throw a young kid in – so there has been a plan behind it and it has been for moments like this and I am totally relaxed.”

Houghton’s new Manchester City team-mate Ellen White has hit four goals at the finals so far and will be looking to add to that in Le Havre.

England v Cameroon – FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 – Round of Sixteen – Stade du Hainaut
England’s Ellen White, right, has been in goalscoring form in France (John Walton/PA)

Neville believes the 30-year-old has added predatory instincts to her game to help find the back of the net on a more regular basis.

“I’m not going to name a player in the male game but in terms of characteristics she is a (Ruud) van Nistelrooy, (Alan) Shearer, (Michael) Owen – turning from a hard-working, grafting player into a predator,” he said.

“That has been the biggest change, now all she thinks about is goals. Yes, she is a team player but she has got that ruthless streak now where it is about goals and that is what I want my centre-forwards to do.”