Phil Neville stressed he was “not disrespecting anyone” as he sought to explain why he branded the Women’s World Cup third-place play-off that England lost to Sweden “a nonsense game”.
The Lionesses missed out on bronze after being beaten 2-1 at Nice’s Allianz Riviera, where Sweden raced into a 2-0 lead through goals from Kosovare Asllani in the 11th minute and Sofia Jakobsson in the 22nd.
England replied through Fran Kirby just after the half-hour mark and thought they had equalised two minutes later, only for Ellen White’s finish to be ruled out for handball following a VAR review.
Lucy Bronze had a late strike cleared off the line as England failed to match their third-placed finish at Canada 2015.
After the game, boss Neville said on BBC One: “Well done Sweden, but it is a nonsense game.
“Probably in that first 20 minutes we were still showing the disappointment of what we felt (in the 2-1 the semi-final loss) against USA. We came to this tournament to win it, not to finish fourth.”
In his post-match press conference, Neville was asked if he wanted to clarify his “nonsense” comment, and he said: “I do, because people can dramatise things, and I think it’s important we get the facts. That is that we came to this tournament to win gold.
“Throughout my life, winning is all that matters, not finishing fourth, third or second, and my players feel exactly the same way as me on this matter – that we came to finish first.
“We’ve not disrespected it (the game) – we wanted to win more than anything. But we wanted to win gold, and that is why I said it is a nonsense.
“In 2015 we won bronze with magnificent performances, a manager (Mark Sampson) and a set of players that were great, and we celebrated and applauded.
“It’s now 2019 and the hurt in the dressing room is because we wanted gold, not bronze. Me and my players, since losing in that semi-final, have been hurting. I think accepting second best is something we’re not going to do.
“I’m not disrespecting anyone, I’m talking about how we felt as a group. We didn’t disrespect the game, you saw the effort the players put into it.
“But we came here for gold. Nobody remembers the losers, they just remember the winners, and we want to be winners and eventually, I think, we will be. That’s where I was coming from on that matter.”
Neville also questioned the decision to disallow the effort from White, who had also had a strike ruled out at 2-1 down in the game against the United States for offside.
This time White – the tournament’s joint top-scorer alongside US forward Alex Morgan with six goals – was judged to have been guilty of handball as she jostled with Linda Sembrant before slotting in.
The handball law was adjusted in rule changes that came into effect on June 1.
Neville said: “We’ve had two referees give us really in-depth analysis, reviews. The reason they give handballs, silhouettes and all that. I just saw a ball that was bouncing, that Ellen went for, and the angle that I saw, I don’t think you can see that it is handball.
“I’m not going to complain, but I just find it…I don’t know where the game’s going to be honest with you.
“We’ve benefited – I would say in the first four games VAR was one of our best players because of the help we got. In the last two games I wish VAR was sent off because it has not gone for us. It does hurt. I didn’t think it was handball, I really didn’t.”
Sweden boss Peter Gerhardsson, whose side went into the contest on the back of a 1-0 extra-time loss to Holland, declined to comment on Neville’s “nonsense game” remark, but insisted there was a “huge difference” between finishing third and fourth.
“I have no comment at all as to what other coaches think abut the whole thing. That’s up to them. If that’s his opinion, that’s what it is,” he said.
“To us, this was a very important game. It’s a huge difference between winning a bronze medal and ending up fourth.
“It’s more about the way we won this match. There were so many good performances.”