England football star Lucy Bronze is set to line up against Portugal this evening in their final group game in Euro 2017 – but it could have been a very different story.
Because the talented defender came close to playing for England’s opponents instead.
The 25-year-old, from Alnwick, is half-Portuguese and nearly switched allegiance to represent her father Joaquim’s homeland, before her England debut. But now she is an England star, she won’t have any split loyalties tonight. But how about her Portuguese father?
Lucy said: “My dad is from Lisbon, but my mum, who is English, will make sure he’s supporting England tonight. He’ll be told who to support.”
When Lucy runs out against Portugal (to be shown live on Channel 4, kick-off 7.45pm BST), she will know that the Lionesses require a point, at most, to finish top of Group D, before the knockout phase.
Lucy has never faced Portugal before and it is sure to be a strange experience for her. And she may well wonder what might have been had she accepted an invitation to represent England’s opponents a few years ago.
She said: “I was 16 and the then Portugal coach, Monica Jorge, had contacted my parents via Facebook after it was mentioned during an England youth game on TV that I was half-Portuguese.
“She realised it was a long shot, and I wanted to play for England, but she said that if there was any chance of playing for Portugal, they would more than welcome me into the squad and develop me.”
Lucy admits that she considered switching allegiance, until her England debut in 2013.
“It was getting close to a point where I just wanted to play international football,” she said.
While the former Duchess’s Community High School pupil helped England win the European Under-19 Championship in 2009, she could not force her way into the senior team under then manager Hope Powell.
She says an England debut ‘didn’t look like it was on the horizon’ when she was 21, and adds she told her mum she may have to consider switching to Portugal if she got to ‘22 or 23 and it doesn’t look like it’s happening’.
“I’m just as Portuguese as I am English and it wouldn’t have felt like a disservice to England,” said the Manchester City defender.
Finally, Lucy was given her debut by Powell in a pre-Euro 2013 friendly against then world champions Japan.
But she did not play a single minute in that year’s European Championship, as England went out in the group stage having won a solitary point.
She said: “I was only at Euro 2013 because Hope said, ‘we’ve got three players injured so you’re the next one in’. It didn’t really feel like I was in the squad.
“Then the manager changed, caretaker boss Brent Hills played me and so did Mark Sampson.”
Lucy has since become a key figure for the Lionesses, and made vital contributions as they finished third at the World Cup two years ago.
After scoring a brilliant winner against Norway in the second round, she then headed home in the quarter-final triumph over hosts Canada.
She has so far impressed at Euro 2017, even playing a key role in overturning a penalty awarded to Spain by reciting the rules to the referee. She was also awarded player of the match.
Lucy is such an important player for England, that Lionesses manager Mark Sampson admits that ‘it would have been a shame if she’d opted for Portugal’.
When it comes to the issue of split loyalties, Lucy’s mum Diane says everyone will be supporting England. She said: “We all support whichever team Lucy plays for. Even her Man United brother supports Man City Women!”