Steph Houghton believes meeting ‘icon’ Serena Williams can help Lionesses stun the tennis star’s home nation USA in World Cup semi-finals

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STEPH HOUGHTON believes a chance meeting with tennis star Serena Williams can help fire the Lionesses to glory.

Seven-time Wimbledon champion Williams used the same Nice hotel as the England team last month.

Steph Houghton says praise from a legend of women’s sport like Serena Williams can only boost England’s chances and morale
Rex Features
Lucy Bronze and Keira Walsh reckon the Lionesses have a big hoop of beating the USA
Lucy Bronze and Keira Walsh reckon the Lionesses have a big hoop of beating the USA to reach the final

The superstar was “amazed” by the training-ground dedication of Houghton and her team-mates.

And Phil Neville’s captain fantastic admitted the words had a huge effect as she prepares to try and take down Williams’ United States homeland.

Houghton played in the 2015 semi-final defeat by Japan that was decided by Laura Bassett’s cruel own goal.

And she thinks the experience means England are better-prepared than ever to cause a World Cup shock.

She said: “Serena is an icon of women’s sport.

“A few of us were fan-girling in the hotel.

“For us to see her train was an unbelievable experience.

“And then to hear her say what she has about us was amazing. We like to pride ourselves on our hard work and stay humble.

“But for someone like her to speak so warmly about us means so much and we’d just like to thank her.”

Houghton’s calmness and steely resolve has been a critical influence on England’s march to the last four.

‘BE BRAVE’

And the Sunderland-born central defender is utterly convinced her team will rise to the challenge.

Houghton added: “We know we can go toe-to-toe with anyone.

“Our physical attributes can win the game and we are happy with where we are.

“Looking back to 2015, we never really expected to get to that semi-final.

But we played our best game of the tournament against Japan and we were absolutely devastated when the own goal went in.
“We know we are in a better position now and we can be calm and collected.

“The key is for us to carry on doing what we are doing well. That means keeping being brave and playing with freedom.

“You have to enjoy the moment. If we do the things we are good at, we have a great chance.”

With a potential 10million TV audience expected to tune in for tomorrow’s game, Houghton admitted the “bubble” of the squad has been an oasis of tranquillity.

But that will all end when they walk out alongside the stand-out side in women’s football, complete with the talismanic Megan Rapinoe.

American tennis legend Serena Williams could unwittingly have helped England in their efforts to overcome favourites USA
AP:Associated Press

Houghton, 31, agreed: “We have to respect them, Rapinoe especially in terms of what she has done so far in the World Cup.

“She is a great player and has shown that for many years. Now, though, we have to believe in ourselves and the ability we have.

“We have players who love those big games and big moments and they don’t come much bigger than a semi-final.”

Neville, who recalled his first meeting with Rapinoe soon after he took the job 18 months ago, is confident his players will grasp the nettle.

He said: “Megan is someone I admired from day one. In my first game against them I went to catch the ball on the touchline and her studs came through my Apple watch.

“She’s never paid for it and didn’t say sorry. I liked that because she’s a winner, a world-class footballer.

“But I’m not worried about anything. I never worry about opposition. I’m concerned with how we are going to win.”

Neville added: “When I got this job I wanted my life to come forward 18 months. It was all about this World Cup.

“Nobody cares who loses in semi-finals. It’s all about winning and we want to win.

“If we don’t get the right result we will see it as a failure.

“Our mindset is about winning. Elite sport is about winning. Nobody cares about silver or bronze, it’s the gold medal everyone wants.


“The 18-month plan will come to fruition on Tuesday. That will be the barometer of everything we’ve done.

“I heard one of the players at breakfast saying it didn’t feel like a semi because they are so relaxed and that’s how I want them to be in two nights’ time.

“But that is why I’m so relaxed. The players are unbelievable and can’t wait for it to come. We’re excited.”

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