In truth England did not play well until they went behind, after 54 minutes, to a near-post header from Solveig Gulbrandsen. That forced England, who had been overly defensive, to step up and five minutes later they levelled through captain Steph Houghton. With the mood of both teams transformed Lucy Bronze, the right-back, suddenly unleashed a stunning 75th-minute drive.
Norway never recovered psychologically and England held on quite comfortably to book a quarter-final against hosts Canada in Vancouver, in front of 50,000-plus, on Saturday night.
“It was a very tough game,” said Bronze. “I’m ecstatic we’ve won. The goal was just one of them, normally I pass but in training people are saying ‘why don’t you shoot?’ So I did.”
England manager Mark Sampson said: “It is the team that made history, they deserve all the credit in the world. They wanted to write their names in the history of women’s football. They showed fantastic character and game discipline, and will take huge confidence from this victory.”
Sampson made four changes, three of them defensive, which proved a good indicator of how England would approach the game. Katie Chapman, a tackling midfielder, replaced the box-to-box Jordan Nobbs while Bronze and Claire Rafferty came in at full-back to defend Norway’s diagonals. In addition Laura Bassett returned.
It was soon apparent that England were content to allow Norway possession, The ball was rarely pressed high up and the back four and midfield sat very deep. This allowed Norway to play much as they want but they lack creativity and their few first-half opportunities still followed English errors.
England's Steph Houghton celebrates after scoring the equaliser with a header from a corner (Getty) The first came after ten minutes when Houghton was guilty of ball-watching allowing Isabell Herlovsen to break off her shoulder onto a hopeful through ball. Karen Bardsley, however, was quickly off her line to block the shot.
Bardsley has been criticised this tournament, and has a chequered record in previous ones, but she was commanding throughout the half, keeping England in it.
She was nevertheless relieved when Lene Mykjaland’s deep cross was allowed to reach
Kristine Minde at the far post only for the Norwegian to hit the side netting.
Norway continued to control the game without concerning Bardsley until Bronze casually underhit a 39th minute backpass. Ada Hegerberg stole in but Bardsley stood tall to parry her shot.
At the other end England offered very little with Fran Kirby too deep and Toni Duggan isolated in attack. Half-time came as a relief to England, and not just because of the heat.
The break changed little however and nine minutes into the second period Norway deservedly took the lead. Bardsley needlessly conceded a corner . When it came in 37-year-old Gulbrandsen stole ahead of Fara Williams at the near post and glanced a header in. The goal begged several questions, not least why Williams, at 5ft 4in, is the front woman at a corner?
Norway scored the first goal of the game with a header from a tight angle (Getty) Five minutes later, however, Williams was in a more appropriate role, driving in a corner. Houghton, rising above three defenders, headed in. It was England’s first serious effort on goal.
The goal appeared to give England an injection of desperately-needed confidence but though they came more into the game it was Norway who next threatened when Hegerberg went past Bassett but was again denied by Bardsley.
England, however, now looked more balanced and more positive. Jill Scott, playing on the right flank, added width and she combined with fellow substitute Jodie Taylor to set up Bronze who thumped the ball in from more than 20 yards.
England might have added a third when Katie Chapman set up Carney but her shot was saved. It mattered not, England had to composure to control the closing minutes and secure another slice of history in their first World Cup win against another European team.
England (4-3-2-1): Bardsley; Bronze, Houghton, Bassett, Rafferty; Moore, Williams, Chapman; Kirby (J Scott, 54), Carney; Duggan (Taylor, 62).
Norway (4-3-3): Hjelmseth; Mjelde, Ronning (Thorisdottir, h/t)), Skammelsrud Lund, Wold (Utland , 87) ; Gulbrandsen, Mykjaland, Ims; Minde (Thorsnes, 70), Herlovsen, Hegerberg.