Of course it ended in tears. England World Cup campaigns invariably do.
Hope Powell's valiant side have spent much of their careers seeking equal status with their male counterparts and last night, perversely, they got it in time-honoured fashion. Just as the men suffered World Cup shoot-out agony in 1990, 1998 and 2006 so did the women in 2011.
And as the dust settled on a tumultuous night, it became clear this was an end of an era as both England coach Hope Powell and her captain Faye White prepared to step aside from the international scene.
Yet it could, perhaps should, have been so different. Powell's team were within three minutes of winning before a French equaliser took the game into extra time.
The Everton midfielder Jill Scott had given England a 58th-minute lead, but Elise Bussaglia brought France level. The Arsenal striker Ellen White missed a good extra time chance to regain the lead, but the match ended 1-1 and the shoot-out was lost when Faye White – with the last kick of the contest – struck the bar to hand France a 4-3 penalty victory.
"Faye is desperately upset," said Powell of the 33-year-old Arsenal central defender, who had stated that this would be her last World Cup and finished it with tears streaming down her face. "That's football," Powell added, "the game has to end some way, and it was the wrong way for us."
Powell knows all about shoot-out misery after being a midfielder in the England team that lost on penalties to Sweden in the 1984 European Championship final.
"This one felt worse," she said. Her players had come so close to securing what would have been the national team's first World Cup semi-final – at the third attempt – but she admitted that she had never felt the game was safe as France pressed in the closing stages.
"It felt very, very tense and I was just trying to wind the clock quicker and quicker, but it wouldn't shift. It's never over until the final whistle and you have to give credit to France. They were the better team in the first half, and although we showed our resilience in the second half they pressed and pressed and finally got the equaliser. We were so desperately unlucky."
There was no denying that France were the better team. England started brightly, the striker Kelly Smith having a goalbound shot turned round the post by the central defender Laura Georges after only 16 seconds.
But Bruno Bini's team quickly gained control, and by the end of extra time the shots-at-goal count, 33-7 in France's favour, told a brutally honest story. The goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, blamed for the goal that led to Mexico sneaking a 1-1 draw in the opening group match, was England's outstanding player with a series of fine saves that kept the French at bay.
The New Jersey Sky Blue keeper kept out good first-half efforts by Gaetane Thiney and Louisa Necib, while Camille Abily also went close and, just after interval, Marie-Laure Delie sent a 10-yard shot inches wide.
When England took the lead it was again the run of play, but it was a fine goal by Scott.
The midfielder dinked a 20-yard shot over Celine Deville after Smith – with the help of an undetected handball – and Rachel Yankey had combined to set up the opening.
As France hit back strongly, Bardsley had to make two excellent stops from Abily. But the save of the match was made by a striker: Ellen White diving to head the right back Laure Lepailleur's 86th minute header off the line.
Powell's team were eventually undone when Bussaglia, collecting a weak clearance 20 yards out, curled a shot in off a post.
Extra time brought few opportunities, though in the 103rd minute Ellen White shot wide when well placed 15 yards from goal. And so to penalties, Bardsley diving to keep out the first one by Abily. But first the substitute Claire Rafferty and then, decisively, White missed to leave England once again losers in a World Cup quarter-final.
England Bardsley (New Jersey Sky Blue); A Scott (Boston Breakers), F White (Arsenal), Stoney (Lincoln), Unitt (Everton); J Scott (Everton), Williams (Everton); Carney (Birmingham City), Smith (Boston Breakers), Yankey (Arsenal); E White (Arsenal). Substitutes Houghton (Arsenal) for A Scott, 81; Rafferty (Chelsea) for Unitt, 81; Asante (NJ Sky Blue) for Yankey, 84.
France Deville; Lepailleur, Georges, Viguier, Bompastor; Soubeyrand (Thomis, 67), Bussaglia; Abily, Necib (Bretigny, 79; Le Sommer, 106), Thiney; Delie.
Referee Ms J Palmqvist (Sweden).Reuse content