News Matches
Women's World Cup

A blockbuster game, a heartbreaking finale: England's women suffer World Cup semi-final exit again

22:10 BST 02/07/2019
England USA Women's World Cup
The USWNT triumphed 2-1 after goals from Christen Press and Alex Morgan either side of an Ellen White equaliser, and it was a bitter pill to swallow

Perseverance, sweat, tears, VAR and pure-as-it-comes belief - it still wasn’t enough to stop England suffering a heartbreaking Women’s World Cup semi-final defeat to the U.S.

And this was as heartbreaking as they come for the Lionesses. A missed penalty by captain Steph Houghton, a goal disallowed by mere inches that could have secured Ellen White’s Golden Boot - it was excruciating.

There was absolutely no shame in their loss, coming to the reigning world champions and upsetting no odds whatsoever after they rallied with everything they had to come back - even when reduced to 10.

There was no hiding from it either. In a cauldron of noise in the Stade de Lyon, chants of "U-S-A" rang around the ground as the players slumped to the grass, aware of just how close they had come to making the country's first-ever Women's World Cup final.

But after years of disappointment, their performances in France bookended 12 months that have seen England fall back in love with their national teams - with the Lionesses themselves breaking countless TV records back home with each game.

And, among the millions tuning in at home, there will be many whose stereotypes and stigmas around women’s football were rightfully changed on Tuesday night.

It’s become an unfortunate theme in modern football that the most hyped-up games don’t live up to expectation.

For recent examples, watch France’s clash with the USA in the Women’s World Cup quarter-finals, or the men’s Champions League final between Liverpool and Tottenham.

But when a game bucks that trend, surviving all the build-up to produce an absolute spectacle, it rightfully earns its place among the classics.

This game perfectly fit that criteria.

This was a blockbuster movie of a football match, complete with all the drama and plot twists that the best have.

The United States assumed the role of the villain from the start of this tournament. The reigning champions, the team everybody wanted to beat - plus, they met the tournament hosts in the quarters.

They seemed happy to assume that role from the off. Anyone still on the fence about their feelings for this team was quickly swayed one side or the other when Ali Krieger said: “We have the best team in the world, and the second-best team in the world.”

Annoying arrogance or commendable confidence? Depends which side you are on.

England have never been the neutral’s favourite. Their renditions of ‘It’s Coming Home’ at last summer’s World Cup rubbed many people up the wrong way, particularly Croatia, who duly dumped them out in the semi-finals.

But as the plucky underdog in this tale, especially when drowned out by the sea of American fans who had flooded into Lyon for the clash, they were the choice of many - particularly the French.

“A lot of people at Lyon have text me over the past two days. They didn't text at the start of the tournament, but since France have gone, they’ve sent me a few messages,” Lucy Bronze said before the game.

“I’ve had a few messages saying good luck, beat the USA for us. So I think we have a few more supporters than we normally have in the French.”

England women's manager Phil Neville predicted as much in his pre-match press conference, but light-heartedly and reluctantly. Yet, when the Stade de Lyon opened on Tuesday evening, the locals were wearing the colours of England, with St George’s Cross painted on their faces.

It was going to take everything for the Lionesses to beat the U.S. and they tried everything.

The mind games added a dramatic twist to things just before kick-off, with England’s line-up absolutely unpredictable while Megan Rapinoe - the undoubted star of Jill Ellis’ side - was on the bench.

U.S. Soccer refused to comment on whether it was an injury, adding further chaos. Rapinoe stood on the sideline, fully kitted with her boots on, and watched her team-mates warm up, begging the question - is she really injured, or was this a mind game?

Neville tried similar. When asked about the match up of Bronze and Rapinoe before the game, he suggested Rachel Daly could play that position and Bronze could be deployed in midfield, as happened when these two played out a 2-2 draw in March.

It wasn’t until at least 10 minutes into the match that regular followers of England could figure out just what the starting XI was.

The teams that took to the sparkling Lyon field could have tipped the scales from hype to over-hype - but it wouldn’t be the case.

This was 90 minutes of relentless, attacking, unpredictable football, so much so that fans of defending should have been warned when switching on to watch.

Three goals by half-time - all of great quality but from bad defending - summed up the end-to-end nature of this exhilarating affair.

The heartbreaking scenes came in White seeing a goal ruled out for offside by VAR, and when captain Houghton stepped up to take a pivotal penalty, which was saved by Alyssa Naeher.

It had everything for the neutrals, but at the end of the day, not everyone is a neutral.

“Americans love winners,” Hope Solo said before the game.

These England players will get a hero’s welcome all the same when they return home, just as they did in their heart-breaking 2015 semi-final defeat. But not the winner's medal they wanted.