England women will land at Heathrow on Monday morning after the most successful World Cup by a national side of either sex since 1966. While they will not be met by a screaming crowd of thousands, a phalanx of media photographers and TV crews is expected. This is significant progress from the indifference experienced by previous teams and testament to the effect they have had in a heady month for the women’s game in England.
On Saturday night Mark Sampson’s team showed how much they have grown as they beat Germany, who have routinely swatted away England sides for three decades and were co-favourites for his tournament, in an unusually competitive third-place play-off. Given Germany’s domination of the European game, and the shattering blow England suffered in the semi-finals, it was a very impressive and significant win.
Having survived an uncomfortable opening they drew Germany’s sting for an hour before becoming the more threatening. Their reward was a penalty, in the 107th minute, converted by midfield linchpin Fara Williams.
The temptation, in a match like this, is to give playing time to those members of the squad who may have felt under-used. Mark Sampson did this to an extent, but he had clearly still picked a team with a view to being as competitive as possible.
Jo Potter made her first start, and Alex Greenwood and Ellen White their second, but Lianne Sanderson remained simmering on the bench while Carly Telford, the only player not to get a game all tournament, was again left out.
Potter, unexpectedly, was deployed as one of three central defenders in a new formation. Since Potter is a midfielder it seemed odd to include her ahead of Casey Stoney, a regular centre-half. In the early stages she looked unsure of her positioning and nearly scored an own goal too, but after a difficult start the Birmingham player settled.
One player who did retain her place was Laura Bassett, the unfortunate scorer of the last-minute own goal that cost England their World Cup final place. She was given a rousing reception by the England fans in Edmonton.
Germany made five changes from the team beaten by the United States in their semi-final, but still looked formidable. Their last 20 meetings with England, going back more than 30 years, had produced 18 wins and two draws.
England began disjointedly, as if unsure of their new shape, and could have gone behind in the opening minute as Lena Petermann got between two of England’s central defenders to meet Sara Daebritz’s crosses. Karen Bardsley saved at her near post.
In the eighth minute Bardsley was beaten, but Steph Houghton was their to acrobatically clear off the line after Potter had inadvertently beaten Bardsley to Bianca Schmidt's header and sent it towards her own goal.
With England still trying to work out who was supposed to be where Celia Sasic drifted between the central defenders but, uncharacteristically, mis-hit her shot and Bardsley saved easily.
It looked as if Germany would overwhelm England, as they usually do, but England have grown in confidence in this tournament, and managed to threaten themselves from a Fara Williams corner. It was half-cleared, to Potter, whose shot struck Tabea Kemme’s arm in the area. Penalties have been given for less obvious handballs in this World Cup, notably in Germany’s favour when one-nil down with five minutes left in the quarter-final against France, but not this time.
England should still have scored. As play continued Lucy Bronze made space on the right and her cross found Houghton with the goal agape, but she scuffed her shot and Nadine Angerer saved easily.
It was a rare England sally. The 3-4-3 was, most of the time, 3-4-2-1, or 5-4-1. Ellen White did head over midway through the half, but that was the only touch the isolated striker had inside the German penalty area in the half.
Germany were becoming frustrated enough for Silvia Neid, their usually composed coach, to prompt a telling off from the fourth official.
Little changed after the break. Germany continued to control the game but England, now settled into their shape, looked solid. Daebritz did get an opportunity, from a Sasic cross, but Bardsley made sharp save from her volley.
On the hour Sampson introduced Eni Aluko, not seen in the previous four matches after starting the first two.
Sanderson followed as England began to show more adventure. Williams even tried to chip Angerer from 40 yards, but the veteran easily gathered. Better chances fell Jill Scott’s way, but no goal ensued.
Aluko could have prevented extra time, her pace enabled her to burst beyond the cover in the 86th minute, but a heavy touch meant Angerer was able to gather.
The breakthrough came early in the second period of extra-time. Sanderson turned Tabea Kemme who reacted by trying to hold her. England were awarded their third spot-kick of the finals - and Williams scored for the third time.
England had gone to four at the back when Sanderson came on, they reverted to five, with Casey Stoney added, after going ahead.
With Bardsley saving an Anja Mittag free-kick, and Bianca Schmidt missing a sitter, England held on for a first-ever win against the two-time world champions
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