England coach Phil Neville has accused the US of lacking “etiquette” ahead of Tuesday’s World Cup semifinal clash after two US representatives visited his team’s hotel while looking at potential accommodation for the final.
The two sides are preparing to face one another in Lyon on Tuesday, with England, which was out training when the incident occurred, having reached its second consecutive World Cup semifinal after defeating Norway 3-0.
Football teams and coaches are usually highly sensitive to opposition sides potentially learning anything about their preparations for key games. In January, Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa was criticized after he admitted to sending a “spy” to watch Derby County at its training ground ahead of a key game.
“The only thing I would say is it’s not something I would want my team ops person doing,” Neville told reporters on Sunday. “It’s not something that England would do.
“It’s not an unfair advantage. It’ll have no bearing on the game. I actually found it quite funny. I just thought, ‘What are they doing?’ It’s not etiquette really, is it? I just think that’s not something that I would allow from our organization.”
According to reports from The Guardian, US staff — not dressed in team kit — were shown around Lyon’s Fourvière Hotel.
The incident — which is being dubbed “spygate” or “hotelgate” — was passed off as necessary tournament planning by USWNT coach Jill Ellis, who said her colleagues were scouting out a hotel to potentially stay in ahead of the final.
“I assume everybody’s doing that, you have to plan ahead,” said Ellis, who is hoping to become the first coach to win two Women’s World Cup titles.
“The only two people that think planning ahead on my team is my administrator — she has to book all the flights and everything — and her boss.
“And everybody else, yeah well they don’t worry about that. That’s probably who the two people were. It’s important to do your job.”
The USA defeated France 2-1 last week to continue its run of reaching at least the semifinals at every World Cup.
Ellis’ side is strong favorite to defeat the Lionesses on Tuesday, although the two teams drew 2-2 when they last met at the SheBelieves Cup in March — a tournament England went on to win.
Accusations have also been made about the Americans’ complacency during the World Cup after defender Ali Krieger said the US has “the best team in the world and the second best team in the world,” to which Ellis responded by saying that “it’s really a comment about ourselves.”
She added: “Everyone on our team has confidence, I wouldn’t say that this is in any way an arrogant team. I think this team knows that they’ve got to earn everything and that we’ve got tough opponents, as we played the other night, still ahead of us.”
The winner of Tuesday’s game will go on to face either Sweden or the Netherlands in Saturday’s final in Lyon.