England’s Lionesses were record-breakers even before kick-off in their match against Japan. This was the first time England’s women had ever reached the semi-final in a World Cup. Despite being the underdogs – Japan are the World Cup title holders and according to most pundits, the team most likely to win – England’s courage, grit and determination gave them a belief not to be underestimated.
From the first blast of the whistle, England attacked, and Jodie Taylor only narrowly missed a shot on goal within the first minute of play. They looked the most threatening side until Claire Rafferty pushed Saori Ariyoshi just outside the box, and Japan was awarded a penalty, half an hour in. Aya Miyama scored from the penalty spot and Japan were ahead. However, less than ten minutes later, Fara Williams had equalised, converting another controversial penalty after Steph Houghton was brought down in the box.
In the second half, England were relentless, with Toni Duggan, Ellen White and Jill Scott all constantly threatening goal, while Steph Houghton and Laura Bassett efficiently mopped up the counter attacks at the back. Dominating play, the Lionesses made the World Cup title holders look average.
Only moments away from extra time, fate struck a cruel blow. Laura Bassett’s attempt to thwart a shot on goal rebounded off the crossbar and into the net, knocking England out of the tournament only seconds before the final whistle. Their exit could not be more devastating. Bassett was inconsolable, and it was tragic to see her shouldering the blame after grafting tirelessly throughout the tournament. Tears were shed on the pitch, in the BBC studio and in homes across the land.
Despite the heartbreak, England’s Lionesses can look back on this tournament with their heads held high. They’ve entertained us, smashing records and expectations, they’ve shown grit, and have given their all on the pitch. They’ve not just raised awareness of women’s football they’ve left a legacy, and they’ve made the nation so very proud.