England rarely have anything to shout about at the major tournaments, the Men’s team have been disappointing on several occasions, but this time, the Women’s side have given the nation something to be proud off.
The tournament in Canada will end tomorrow, the final between current World Champions Japan, and the USA will be a rematch of the final in 2011. For England, the curtains have come down, it has been an excellent few week for a team looking to raise the profile of the game back home.
The Lionesses (as they are known) did not get off to the best of starts, losing the opening game to one of the favorites, France. Though they were on the back foot off the bat, victories against Mexico & Colombia saw them progress to the knockout stage. England had never won a knock out match at the World Cup, and Norway stood in the way of a ground breaking win for the team. Even though they fell behind early in second half, captain Steph Houghton, who lead by example the entire tournament leveled the game, before Lucy Bronze fired in a long range stunner that sealed a place in the final 8.
Hosts Canada were next on the list. The home fans provided all they could in terms of support, with a near 55,000 in the stadium roaring on the side. England could have been overwhelmed, but it was the hosts who crumbled, 2 goals in 4 minutes in the opening 20 minutes set England off to a flying start. Canada managed to recover a goal back before half time, but England valiantly held on, and booked a place in the final 4. Something no one in the English camp would have believed before it all began.
If they were to go all the way to the final, they would have to depose of the current champions Japan. Although Japan were the favorites to go through, England pushed them literally to the final minutes of the match. With the game level at 1-1, courtesy of 2 penalties, and heading towards the dying seconds of injury time. A late break by the Japanese saw a cross diverted into the England goal by a despairing Laura Bassett. Japan just barely made it into the final, for England, the cruelest of ways to get eliminated in a semi final, an own goal in injury time. The disappointment aside, the team had done wonderfully well to even get this far, and they could still salvage a medal in the 3rd place play off.
That would prove rather difficult, in their way stood Germany, the number 1 ranked team in the Women’s game, and a side England have never won against. If the odds were stacked against them vs Japan, it looked near impossible against the mighty Germans. Just as they did against Japan, England played a mighty disciplined game, managing to hold their own, and forced the match into extra time with a 0-0 stalemate. With a shoot out looming against the Germans (which, lets be honest, would have only gone one way!), England managed to win a penalty. Which was calmly dispatched by Farah Williams. Despite all the late pressure by Germany, England resisted the attacks and managed to not only win the game, but secure their first ever victory over the best team int he world right now.
For Mark Sampson, the young England manager, it was a phenomenal end to an excellent outstanding tournament. Players such as Houghton, Bronze & Carney will have done a tremendous role in inspiring many girls in England to take up the game, and make many take the game more seriously. Although they were not technically the best team, they played with great spirit and determination, to overcome superior teams, maybe something the Men’s team could look at.