The England women’s national team capped off a memorable tournament by sealing third place in the Women’s World Cup at the expense of Germany, making them Europe’s most successful team in the competition.
To put it simply, it has been a turbulent last few days for the Lionesses, after their hopes of bringing the trophy back home were undeservedly shunned after a 2-1 defeat to Japan. An own goal from Laura Bassett in the 90th minute gifted the Asian side a place in the World Cup final, but their display against Germany showed that the heartbreak was behind them, and salvaged some prominent pride with a dogged and impressive attacking an defensive display.
James Samspon had made some changes to the personnel that started on Thursday, with Claire Rafferty, Jade Moore, Jodie Taylor and Toni Duggan all having to settle for a place on the bench for the third-place play-off. Sampson also reverted from a 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2, which seemed to inspire England, albeit the second half was more of a blitzkrieg, with the Lions just about weathering some sustained Germany pressure.
England’s few numbers at the back were exploited prompt: the floodgates seemed to open.
This formation had a number of cons – since we lacked bodies at the back, especially at set pieces, we gifted Germany too much respect. You can’t fault the shift the players had put in throughout this tournament, but our zonal marking was awful and their players found themselves in acres of space, albeit they failed to capitalize.
In the first-half, England showed signs of laziness in some sloppy play, which was far from what we have come to expect from the Lionesses. We tried to play with a fast tempo, and we did well to get the ball into wide areas, too. However, we didn’t manage to get our best players on to the ball, and subsequently lacked creativity throughout the first-half.
However, while England failed to impress in the opposition’s half, you couldn’t fault the players defensively, as they weathered the pressure from Germany in what was an outstanding display.
We were awful at times, but since our formation meant our midfield and defence were congested and compact, it enabled us to shut down the opposition players from making any movements past our players (bar if they did, we would have had to play the offside trap).
The second-half was a flip side, we were too quick off the blocks for Germany, and you could see that Sampson had attempted to change that formation to propel us to victory. It worked, and this time I saw more innovation from the players and there was definitely some positive moments. They played the overlap to perfection, held the ball really well, and our width was superb. The only negative was that we failed to score.
Surely all the hard work from Sampson’s men would have drained out all the energy from the players, but typical of England, our fighting spirit and persistence was admirable.
We were eventually awarded for our hard work, and it yielded a penalty, which Fara Williams converted with ease. Germany wasted another chance late on, and our resolute bodies held on for a fully merited victory. Our physical presence was superior to Germany’s, and it ultimately gifted England the bronze medal.
It was evident that the formation that Sampson had chosen only yielded more space for Germany’s bodies. They could have taken the lead in the first-half, had it not been for Houghton’s vigilant and courageous defending: clearing a goal-bound effort off the line after a lack of communication between goalkeeper and defender. The tournament’s top scorer, Celia Sasic, had a marvellous chance to put the champions ahead, but she shot straight at England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley.
However, England were not deprived of chances of their own. Lucy Bronze, spearheading England on the wings and constantly bombing forward on defences, had embarked on a terrific run, but failed to produce a cross that reached any of her teammates.
The first-half was enraging for any Lioness watching – the build-up play was promising at times but we struggled to break them down. That, coupled with the sloppiness at the back and their inability to retain possession, left England on the ropes. Thankfully, it was still 0-0 going into the second-half.
Anyone who said the second half was a carbon copy of the first would be labelled a fool. We were quick off the blocks and attacked Germany’s weakest players at every opportunity.
We effectively did what Germany did in the first-half. We showed more promising play going forward, triangle movement and effective passing, which showed that the players had whipped each other into shape when it really mattered.
Unfortunately, like Germany, England struggled in the final third to create any real dangerous chances to put us ahead. But, we kept on fighting and it showed that the Lionesses wanted it more than Germany did.
The introduction of Eniola Aluko had seemed to inspire England’s play and orchestrate more cohesion, and she almost turned provider as she laid the ball off perfectly to Jill Scott, but she wasted a glorious opportunity to put England ahead, deservedly on the balance of play.
Sampson’s men kept on fighting, and carried some determined bodies, and were rewarded with a penalty when Tebea Kemme brought down Lianne Sanderson in the area. Fara Williams beat retiring German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer to give England the lead. The atmosphere in the ground was buzzing.
England, however, must have been biting their toenails when Bianca Schmidt was in acres of space when a cross sailed into her path, only for her to head wide.
For England, however, it’s a great way to sign off their remarkable run, as they end the campaign as Europe’s best team in the tournament.
Star(s) Of The Match
Lucy Bronze – 8/10
Did brilliantly to bomb forward, making great runs on the flank and supplying some decent crosses from defence. Solid tournament from the Man City outlet.
Mark Sampson – 9/10
Managed the Lionesses superbly and has undergone a steep learning curve throughout his coaching career.
Developed his managerial skills and more importantly, masterminded England’s fantastic run. He had no experience at the beginning, but he is now being compared with the likes of Rafael Benitez, Jose Mourinho and Sam Allardyce.