Mark Sampson said he wanted the “Girls of ’15” to go down in English football history like the “Boys of ’66” after England’s women achieved the highest World Cup finish since Sir Alf Ramsey’s Wembley winners.
The Football Association will hope, however, that England’s third place in Canada is merely the start of things rather than a prelude to 49 years (and counting) of under-achievement.
His players, too, are already talking of winning the 2017 European Championship in the Netherlands. “The way we go into tournaments can change,” said Laura Bassett. “We can be confident, we know we’ve got great experience at tournaments, and we can beat any team on our day.
“With the young players coming through we’re going to keep on pushing, pushing and we’ll see where that takes us. A gold medal in future? Why not? We can do it.” Beating Germany in Edmonton on Saturday meant more than just a bronze medal for third place. Germany had won 18 and drawn two of the previous 20 meetings between the teams and have been victorious in the last six European Championships.
While Germany were not at full strength, neither were England. Germany had Nadine Angerer in goal and Celia Sasic in attack and their devastated response to losing showed they were fully committed to the match.
“We can go anywhere we want to now,” said Fara Williams. “We have beaten the best team in Europe. We believe we are the best in Europe, and the coverage we have had back home has been fantastic. Now we just need to take it forward. I believe we can win a tournament. It was only a freakish goal that stopped us getting to this final.”
The result was quite a turnaround from November when Germany won 3-0 at Wembley, with the scoreline flattering England.
Sampson said: “It’s not so long ago that we came off after 45 minutes at Wembley by far second best against an excellent German side, but the team since that moment have learned an incredible amount and have been a special group to work with.”
Sampson made four changes from the team beaten in injury time by Japan in the semi-final; among those retained was Bassett, whose own goal settled that match.
She was part of a back three that, unexpectedly, featured midfielder Jo Potter rather than centre-half Casey Stoney.
The system took time to bed in and Germany had several early chances. But Karen Bardsley denied Lena Petermann and Sasic while Steph Houghton cleared off the line when Potter inadvertently headed towards her own goal. Gradually Engand came into the game and could have had a penalty when Tabea Kemme blocked a Potter shot with her arm. Then Houghton miscued when Lucy Bronze’s cross presented her with an open goal.
Late in normal time Sampson changed tack, introducing Eniola Aluko and Lianne Sanderson and moving to four at the back.
Suddenly England had chances but the match was deep into added time when Kemme pulled back Sanderson after the Arsenal player turned her.
Williams confidently swept the penalty home and with Bianca Schmidt missing from close range England had bronze.
“Finally I have got a medal at a World Cup,” said Williams. “All the sacrifices everyone makes, all the staff, being away for a long period of time from family and friends. This was the least we could have come away with.”
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