It is hard to imagine there ever being a crueller end to a semi-final on the world stage than England’s last-gasp defeat against Japan in Edmonton. With extra time looming and England matching the world champions as they chased a history-making berth in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final™, sporting tragedy struck for the Three Lionesses. Defender Laura Bassett made a desperate lunge to stop a cross reaching Yuki Ogimi only for the ball to arc into the goal from the edge of the penalty area off the underside of the crossbar, leaving Japan 2-1 victors.
There was an understandable sense of anguish among the England players as they addressed the media after the match in the bowels of the Commonwealth Stadium. But equally there was stoicism, pride and defiance.
Leading the way was England’s inspirational central midfielder Fara Williams who speaks with the same level of passion in which she plays. “Every other nation has a style of play, and what we have is a way of winning and we have proved that in this tournament,” Williams told FIFA.com. “We have rotated players and that team we put out was a team that was capable of beating Japan. We hit the crossbar and we really pushed them. Ask any other team and anyone watching and you can see that England can find a way to win.
“Bass (Laura Bassett) is absolutely devastated with what happened but we are behind her and we are proud of her. She has had a fantastic tournament but it just wasn’t our day today.”
England’s campaign - one in which they also defeated former champions Norway and hosts Canada - is off course far from over yet. Saturday will see the Three Lionesses tackle old rivals Germany with third place on the line.
“We will be ready to go again most definitely,” Williams said with more than a dose of conviction in her voice. “We need to give one more big performance against the Germans. It will need to be a class performance, and they have had an extra day to recover.”
*Courage and conviction
*Williams, more than most, knows a thing or two about doing things the hard way. She once spent a period of her life in homeless shelters. Perhaps that experience helped sharpen a passion and hunger for success. Her ice-cool penalty conversion to level the scores in Edmonton speaks of a mentally strong individual.
Now 31, Williams is a veteran of the team, and appreciates the importance of England’s success in Canada. But did she ever imagine being front and centre as England found themselves within touching distance of a Women’s World Cup Final? “Never ever,” Williams said. “But this is an unbelievable squad of players. We really have stuck together since minute one at the start of the tournament.
“I’m so proud of this squad. We have shown other nations that we are serious about our game. We have really improved since Euro 2013. To get to a semi-final and push the world champions all the way to the 92nd minute which was very unlucky for us, says a lot.
“We have so much belief in this squad. We are gutted with the result but hopefully we have inspired the next generation of players and in the end that is what we want to do. The perception has been changed back home. We certainly have had more support and coverage which is what we need, but now hopefully we push on with that.
“We proved a lot of doubters wrong. We hear all the media and press and what they say, but we believed and stuck together and we did so until that last minute goal. In the past we have let it get the better of us. Certainly in 2013 we let the media get into our heads. But we never let that in and I think it showed on the pitch and the togetherness we have is unbelievable.”