"We had a camp a year ago and we set out the objectives for the next 12 months, and all I wanted them to say was 'win the World Cup", he said.
They took the lead after only three minutes when Bronze burst down the right flank and cut in from the byline.
They'll play either the hosts France or pre-tournament favourites United States of America in the next round.
Smith was England's leading scorer in World Cups, but has been overtaken by Ellen White, who has scored five goals during this tournament.
The semis will be hosted in Lyon, where Bronze plays her club football for European champions Olympique Lyonnais.
It was the ideal way to cap a victory which takes England through to a last-four showdown against either hosts France or holders the USA. The scoreline didn't tell the whole story because Japan were the dominant side after the break - the result of more avoidable England sloppiness in possession - and it was nothing short of a miracle that the 2011 winners failed to get on the score sheet. This strike brought up a milestone for White, as it her saw her overtake Fara Williams to become England's top Women's World Cup goalscorer of all time with six goals.
Neville also described England captain Steph Houghton as "irreplaceable" after her excellent display, which included clearing a Lisa-Marie Utland shot off the line shortly after Bronze's 57th-minute goal.
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McManus, who has 15 England caps, has made just one appearance at the World Cup so far, starting in the 1-0 group stage win over Argentina.
The 27 year-old lurked on the edge of the box as Beth Mead stood over a free-kick from the right, with the Norway defence apparently oblivious to her whereabouts. "Even if the game at the end of course was gone, we still fought", he said. "I keep thinking to myself, "stop saying it", but we can't hide away from the fact something's happening".
And Kirby is determined that England can put their last four hoodoo behind them and make it to the final.
Bardsley, who was born and raised in the US, said she does not mind who they play in the semis, adding: "I don't care".
"If you haven't got players with attitude and determination you're dead as a coach".
Parris penalty miss did not dampen England's celebration as they progress to the semi-finals of the Women's World Cup.
"We have put a lot of pressure on ourselves from day one, and we did that for moments like (now), so they are used to the pressure and expectation", Neville explained before the match.