England’s run to the Women’s World Cup semi-finals has been built primarily on solid defensive foundations and Alex Greenwood has been at the heart of it. She may have gone somewhat under the radar but she is – quietly – becoming a real contender for the competition’s Golden Ball prize.

The Lionesses’ back three of Jess Carter, Millie Bright and Greenwood all produced rock-solid performances in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Colombia, and after five matches at this tournament, the European champions have conceded just twice. They are also excelling with the ball and none more so than Manchester City’s Greenwood, with the statistics backing up her case for a place in at least the Team of the Tournament.

Greenwood has had more touches on the ball (579) than any other player in this tournament, highlighting how integral she has been to England’s play. She also leads the way in this World Cup with the highest number of interceptions of any player from the 32 competing teams; her tally of 13 emphasises her impressive reading of the game and her anticipation.

Her composure in possession, especially against a pressing side, has been crucial for England as they look to replace injured captain Leah Williamson, who took on the ball-playing centre-back role at last summer’s European Championship.

Arguably, Greenwood is so capable at escaping the press, she is taking things to another level. She plays with the calmness of a Rolls Royce but can get out of tight spaces like a Fiat 500, and that combination was evident multiple times at Stadium Australia as she helped England breakthrough Colombia’s press.

The 29-year-old has also got stuck in when required and has won 10 tackles – nobody in the tournament has won more than 12 so far. Then in possession, she is vital to getting the ball moving forward for the Lionesses and she has made 40 progressive passes, the most of any player not playing for Spain’s possession-hogging side. With nine key passes – joint ninth in the competition – she is also up there with attacking midfielders when it comes to creating dangerous opportunities going forward.

Bright and Carter’s performances have also been strong, with Bright, in particular, improving game-by-game since returning from a knee injury that had kept her out for four months prior to the tournament. In England’s opening victory over Haiti – Bright’s first competitive match since facing Lyon in the Women’s Champions League quarter-finals in March – she looked rusty, to say the least, and displayed several loose touches. But those cobwebs have been blown off, with the centre-back brave with her blocks on Saturday and dominant in the air.

Carter, too, deserves high praise for her performance against Colombia’s hugely talented 18-year-old Real Madrid winger Linda Caicedo. Thanks to Carter and wing-back Lucy Bronze, England were able to keep Caicedo relatively quiet.

Even tougher tests lie ahead, with Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord and Hayley Raso all likely to line up in Australia’s attack in Wednesday’s titanic semi-final in Sydney, but England will take great heart from how reliable their new-look back three have proven to be.

This is also an England side that is showing class in victory and respect to their opponents, with displays of sportsmanship that typify their character. Greenwood exemplified that again on Saturday when consoling a distraught Caicedo at full-time.

Several other England players spent time commiserating with the crestfallen Colombia players after the match. Similarly, after the Lionesses’ last-16 victory over Nigeria, Greenwood and Chloe Kelly both rushed to console goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie at the end of the penalty shootout. Kelly even asked television cameras not to film the Nigeria shot-stopper.

In Greenwood, Bright and Carter, England have a likeable trio who are also proving to be hugely dependable.