It was a World Cup which started in defeat, but ended with the Lionesses winning the hearts of a nation.
Mark Sampson went into his first major tournament with England knowing that his side had never progressed past the quarter-final stage.
After their opening performance against France which ended in a 1-0 defeat for England, many fans couldn’t have envisaged what would happen next in Canada.
We take a look back over what was a historic 21 days for football for England and a memorable World Cup that of course finished in a showdown against bitter rivals Germany.
England’s Player of the Tournament:
Manager Mark Sampson opted to use 22 out of 23 players throughout the tournament with goalkeeper Carly Telford the only player not to see any pitch time. It was clear from the off that there was a real team ethic amongst the England camp.
Fara Williams finished England’s top goal scorer with 3 goals; all from the penalty spot, but it was the effort and commitment from Jill Scott that made her my player of the tournament. The 28-year-old continuously stepped up for Sampson and her fellow Lionesses, taking care of the ‘nitty-gritty’ stuff that doesn’t necessary get recognised in games but is key to many victories. Throughout the 7 games Scott only missed the opening game against France – which was arguably England’s worst performance – and spent the majority of those games out of position on the right of a forward three. However her height and strength was pivotal when winning balls in the final third and seeing games out and made it difficult for full backs to regain possession.
There also has to be worthy mentions for the solid centre-back partnership of skipper Steph Houghton and Laura Bassett and in the heart of midfield Katie Chapman and Jade Moore never put a foot wrong.
England’s Player of the Tournament: Jill Scott
England’s Goal of the Tournament
When it came to deciding which of the 10 goals scored during the Lionesses’ World Cup campaign was the best, two goals instantly stood out – Lucy Bronze’s goal vs. Norway and Fran Kirby’s vs. Mexico.
Lucy Bronze’s goal against Norway was key in the last 16 as the game looked to be heading for extra time and England searched for their first knockout stage win. It was a goal that came from nowhere but looked like it was something straight off the training ground with Bronze smashing it home from an impressive 27 yards out after some astute build up play around the edge of the box.
Fran Kirby was the only player from the FA WSL 2 to make Mark Sampson’s final 23 and was also the youngest member of the squad. With less than 20 minutes left to go against Mexico and England in dire need of a goal, it was Kirby in her first World Cup appearance who stepped up to provide the goods, swiftly skipping through the Mexican defence and making the most of a half chance on the edge of the area.
It was tough deciding between the two goals, but for the link up play down the right hand side that was too good to ignore and the emphatic finish adding to the fact England had never won a knockout game at a World Cup finals the magic provided by Lucy Bronze just tips it.
England’s Goal of the Tournament: Lucy Bronze vs. Norway (Round of 16)
After watching the opening lacklustre defeat against France, if you had said to me this England team will go on to beat the team ranked number one in the world, Germany, and secure third place I’d have thought you were mad, but thankfully I was proved wrong.
Sampson’s side grew as the tournament progressed and after a defeat that’s something that is difficult to do – especially in a major tournament. A remarkable game plan and constant change of tactics to adapt to the immediate threat laid in front of the Lionesses, proved pivotal in beating some of the world’s best sides including host nation Canada in front of over 50,000 home fans. A unity between the squad and dogged determination was matched by moments of real quality from individuals to provide a historic tournament for English football. The Lionesses not only pulled off the best performance at a World Cup for any England side in over 59 years, but also recorded their first ever victory over Germany at the 21st time of asking to clinch that bronze medal.
Plaudits have to go to Sampson, who was managing England at his first major tournament since taking over from Hope Powell, as some of his substitutions were key to seeing games out or providing England with a more attacking threat when they needed to push on for a result, but all of his 23 players, coaching staff and backroom staff have played their part in creating history.
England can now boast the title of the best team in Europe and will return to their domestic leagues having inspired a whole country with a legacy that will never be forgotten.