Last night’s World Cup semi-final was a neutral’s dream, filled with controversy, class and heartbreak. Unfortunately it was English hearts breaking across the country as a last minute Laura Bassett own goal saw Japan go through to the final, leaving the Lionesses devastated.
The playing styles of the two teams in the run up to the semi-final could not have been more different. While Japan had relied on a passing game and patient build ups, England had taken a more direct approach using long balls and counter attacks. Though England were considered the underdogs, their continuous improvement throughout the tournament and strong resilience meant that the semi-final was set up to be an intriguing encounter.
The Lionesses started extremely strongly with Jodie Taylor having an excellent chance within the first minute, her shot just wide of the target. England continued in this manner. Although Japan had the majority of possession as expected, they created little from it and the English looked the most threatening.
However, in the 32nd minute England conceded a penalty. Clare Rafferty pushed Saori Ariyoshi from behind as she was sprinting towards the England goal. However replays show that the incident was in fact outside the box, and so should have instead been a free-kick. Nonetheless Miyama coolly slotted home to put the Japanese ahead.
Less than ten minutes later, and England had their own controversial penalty given. Steph Houghton’s ankle was clipped in the box, but her fall seemed somewhat theatrical. Despite this, the penalty was given, and Fara Williams confidently equalised for England in the 40th minute.
The Lionesses were by far the stronger team after the break. The Japanese seemed to be tiring, and England enjoyed an excellent period of play where Toni Duggan struck the crossbar, Ellen White forced an excellent save from Ayumi Kaihori, and Jill Scott headed just wide. A few minutes later, the Japanese crossbar was struck again, this time by Rafferty. However, England failed to capitalise on these chances.
As the clock ticked towards full-time, England seemed in control and ready to tackle extra-time. However disaster struck.
In the last minute of stoppage time, the ball was desperately crossed into England’s box. Laura Bassett’s attempted clearance instead ricocheted off the crossbar and bounced over the line.
England were stunned. Thirty seconds later and the final whistle went, sparking Japanese celebrations but England’s absolute despair. Laura Basset was inconsolable and escorted off the pitch, while her teammates looked on, devastated.
The post-match interviews showed the raw emotion of the England players, with many of them visibly upset. Mark Sampson delivered a moving speech, telling his players that he was “so proud of them” and “it’s ok to cry”.
A wave of support was shown for Laura Bassett on social media from both players and fans alike. She was commended her for being one of the strongest and most determined England players in the tournament, and was described as a “rock” and “the most honest, hard-working professional”. Hashtags such as #Iwillstandwithbass and #ProudofBassett abounded on Twitter.
Nonetheless, once the Lionesses get over the heartbreak and anguish of this loss, they will see what their outstanding cup run has done for women’s football in England. Their individual stories and fantastic team spirit has gripped the nation, and they can only go onwards and upwards from here.
Featured image and England players at final whistle: www.telegraph.co.uk
Fara Williams celebration: www.skysports.com