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Neville hopes unpredictability befuddles England’s opponents

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England’s Ellen White, front, and Japan’s Rikako Kobayashi, right, challenge for the ball during the Women’s World Cup Group D soccer match between Japan and England at the Stade de Nice in Nice, France, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

VALENCIENNES, France (AP) — Phil Neville doesn’t seem to mind if Cameroon could have spied on his training session.

The England coach’s lineup could still be hard to decipher ahead of Sunday’s round of 16 meeting at the Women’s World Cup.

Cameroon’s staff could have had a bird’s eye view of England’s training session in northern France on Friday. All they had to do was get into an apartment building overlooking the Stade Municipal in Saint-Amand-les-Eaux.

“My goalkeeping coach said today there were a couple of old people … looking out of the flats,” Neville said. “Looking at our training. I hope they enjoyed it.”

While the England’s team is known as simply the Lionesses, Cameroon’s nickname is the Indomitable Lionesses.

Maybe England should be rebranded the Unpredictable Lionessess.

Even the most experienced players can’t be sure of their spots in Neville’s starting lineup. Across the three group stage games — all won by England — there were 12 lineup changes,

“We pick players on their profiles, how it fits into the makeup of the team,” Neville said. “I’ve learned that along the years. If you have one cog that’s not quite right in the system, that flow of how you want to play football can’t work.”

Only two outfield players from the Lionesses have yet to play in France heading into Sunday’s game.

“A lot has been made I do like to change my team but you imagine the opposition facing us,” Neville told reporters. “You were saying about Cameroon being unpredictable. They probably won’t have a clue what our team is tomorrow, our tactics. So that puts us at an advantage. The players enjoy it because everyone has a chance of playing and being involved.”

Despite scoring the winner in the opening 2-1 victory over Scotland, Ellen White was rested for the 1-0 victory over Argentina but returned against Japan when seven changes were made and the forward netted both goals in a 2-0 win.

“Ellen should thank me for leaving her out against Argentina,” Neville said.

But telling the players the lineup never gets easier.

“When we name the team, it is the hardest five-minute meeting you will ever have,” Neville said. “You have got players that are genuinely disappointed. When you care for a set of players that does leave something on you. That’s the ruthless side.”

That ruthlessness means England is targeting much more than just reaching the quarterfinals. After finishing third in Canada in 2015, Neville is chasing a spot in the final — and a first major women’s title for England.

“We have worked hard for 18 months on giving players opportunities, giving them experience, rotating and keeping freshness,” he said. “Now it’s about being ruthless and winning every game. The style of play was non-negotiable but now it is about winning and that’s where me and my team have to become serial winners.”

Cameroon has never won a knockout stage game at a Women’s World Cup — reaching the round of 16 on its debut four years ago.

Now the lowest-ranked team remaining in France — at No. 46 — is facing FIFA’s third-ranked team.

“Cameroon is gaining in strength and taking baby steps. We will be the underdogs,” Cameroon coach Alain Djeumfa said. “England has some weakness. They have many weaknesses. But we don’t need to list them. I have written them down and have them in my head.”

FRANCE-BRAZIL: Like England, France is facing one of the third-place teams from the group stage in Brazil. The hosts could do with an easier matchup. So ruthless in the 4-0 rout of South Korea, France has struggled to live up to the highs of the opener. Back-to-back one-goal victory margins still carried France through and the hosts have only conceded once in three games.

“We lack certain efficiency,” France coach Corinne Diacre said in Le Havre ahead of Sunday’s game. “If we keep on having many opportunities and at the end we win the games I can be satisfied, sincerely.

RECAPPING SATURDAY: Germany advanced to the Women’s World Cup quarterfinals for the eighth straight time, beating Nigeria 3-0. As has so often happened in this tournament, the game in Grenoble featured VAR disruptions. Alexandra Popp had already celebrated scoring the opener against the African champions on her 100th international appearance when the referees signaled for a video review to determine whether a German teammate was in an offside position and obstructing the goalkeeper. Popp’s goal stood, and a few minutes later the match was stopped for another VAR review to determine whether Germany’s Lina Magull had been fouled in the penalty area by Evelyn Nwabuoko. The penalty was awarded and Sara Däbritz scored from the spot. Lea Schüller completed the victory in the 82nd. England and Cameroon already know they are competing to play Norway in the quarterfinals. That is after Norway beat Australia 4-1 on penalties after the game ended 1-1 after 120 minutes. Australia captain Sam Kerr shot a penalty wide and Emily Gielnik had a penalty saved before Norway’s Ingrid Engen hit the decisive kick.

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