Many doubted Mark Sampson’s credentials and experience when he was made England women’s manager 18 months ago. Few do now. Sampson capped a generally impressive tournament debut tactically by finding the right words to deal with England’s shattering World Cup semi-final defeat in Edmonton on Wednesday night.
Interviewed immediately after Laura Bassett’s injury-time own goal had sent England out of the competition in the cruellest way imaginable, the usually talkative Welshman was briefly speechless. Then he found his voice, praising and reassuring Bassett, paying tribute to his players, and their old and new fans.
“It is heartbreaking,” said Sampson, adding: “I told the girls it is OK to cry. I am so proud of them. They have inspired a nation and deserve to go home as heroes.”
A few minutes later, with time to regain his composure, Sampson added: “This team has shown the world what it is capable of. The players will have special memories for the rest of their lifetime.
“I can’t find a word to emphasise how together this team has been. They are a special group to work with and have shown what type of people they are and what type of team they are. I can’t be prouder.
“To talk about that is as good as winning the World Cup for us. We felt we could go all the way but what we have achieved and the values this team epitomises is as good as having a medal around the neck.”
Of the distraught Bassett he said: “She didn’t deserve that. Laura Bassett has been courageous, strong, and kept this group together. Anyone who knows Laura would be privileged to have her in their life. She’s a role model for every player in our team. She is a hero, an absolute hero – that is how she will be remembered.”
Bassett’s horror moment came as extra-time loomed in a match that England had increasingly controlled. Though Jodie Taylor came close to scoring in the opening minute, the game was tight and uneventful until Saori Ariyoshi was released behind Claire Rafferty.
The Chelsea defender pushed Ariyoshi in the back and, although the offence was outside the box, the referee’s assistant did not prevent the referee giving a penalty.
Aya Miyama, Japan’s captain, tucked it away, but England levelled within four minutes through another controversial penalty as Steph Houghton tumbled theatrically in the box. Fara Williams, who opted against taking a kick in the shoot-out defeat to France in the 2011 World Cup quarter-final, finished with aplomb.
In the second period the introduction of Ellen White gave England extra impetus. Toni Duggan hit the bar with a volley, White drew a flying save from Ayumi Kaihori, and Jill Scott sent a close-range header wide.
Japan looked to be hanging on for extra-time, but then a rare break led to a cross from Nahomi Kawasumi that, with Yuki Ogimi lurking, Bassett had to cut out. The ball flew off her outstretched boot, over Karen Bardsley, and in off the crossbar. It was given on the evidence of goalline technology.
Japan – whose only shot on target was the penalty – now play the United States in a repeat of the 2011 final, won by Japan on penalties. England must find a way to lift and compose themselves for a third-place play-off against Germany, a team that habitually hammer them, in Edmonton on Saturday. It is not much of a reward.Reuse content