Women’s World Cup Final: USA Against Japan, Sunday

in Latest/Sports

NEVER mind the heatwave, it is the history that keeps you awake at night.

And as English football treated the nation to the kind of sleepless drama only the World Cup can administer, the Lionesses suffered last-gasp, semi-final heartbreak.

Barely 60 seconds of stoppage time remained when Laura Bassett’s own goal, sliced in off the underside of the bar, sent holders Japan into Sunday’s final against the USA.

While Japan’s freakish slice of luck was barely deserved, let’s hear it for the Lionesses. They did us proud again.

If you thought England’s customary exit from major ­tournaments – the penalty shoot-out – was cruel, this was unbearable anguish.

After the first half in Edmonton was a tale of two penalties – both dubious – England’s tired legs came desperately close to a maiden World Cup final appearance.

As Mark Sampson’s gallant girls turned the screw, Toni Duggan rattled the bar with shot from 20 yards, sub Ellen White’s curling effort was tipped to safety and Jill Scott’s thumping header bounced agonisingly wide. But coach Sampson, captain Steph Houghton and the Lionesses did only justice to the millions who stayed up late at home to watch a game kicking off at midnight.

And when they have wiped away the tears of defeat, and confronted the booby prize of a third-place play-off against Germany, the true measure of Sampson’s achievement will become apparent.

He has catapulted women’s ­football into a golden era. The crestfallen Welshman said: “I’ve told the team it’s OK to cry. Laura didn’t deserve that and we didn’t deserve that. I’m so proud of the way they have inspired the nation back home.”

England were fortified by goodwill from bands of brothers with World Cup semi-final experience. From the Boys of 66, Sir Geoff Hurst and goalkeeping legend Gordon Banks sent personal good luck messages through Mirror Sport.

And 25 years, almost to the day, since the nation last came to a halt at this stage of a World Cup, Gary Lineker had led the tributes from the class of Italia 90. As if pride in the shirt, and the incentive of a maiden World Cup final appearance, was not sufficient ­motivation, Japan coach Norio Sasaki was kind enough to write Sampson’s pep-talk for him.

Sasaki insisted the holders preferred a “superior” approach to England’s “simple soccer”. Inside the first minute his words almost came back to haunt him.

Jodie Taylor sent a speculative half-volley dipping inches wide of Ayumi Kaihori’s right-hand post.

England invest much of their game plan around physical ­advantage, and their preference for muscle over finesse proved costly after 32 minutes.

Saori Ariyoshi stole a march on full-back Claire Rafferty, and although the Chelsea defender’s untidy shove on the escaping Japanese forward was conceived outside the box, there were few protests when a penalty was given.

Skipper Ayi Miyami converted, but within eight minutes England were handed a dubious equaliser of their own.

Chelsea winger Yuki Ogimi clipped Houghton’s heel, the England captain went down and Fara Williams kept her nerve from the spot. – Mirror