Fara Williams’s extra-time penalty ensured England beat Germany for the first time in 31 years to finish third at the Women’s World Cup.The performance was the second best by an England team following the 1966 win by the men’s side and eclipsed the 1990 men’s team, who finished fourth in Italy.
The Lionesses had not beaten two-time World Cup winners Germany in 20 attempts but they more than matched their opponents and won the spot-kick in the second period of extra-time after substitute Lianne Sanderson was brought down by Tabea Kemme.
Williams, who is England’s record cap holder and was homeless at one point in her England career, beat retiring German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer for her third penalty of the tournament.
It brought to a close a superb campaign for England, who finished as the top European nation and are now set to climb from sixth in the world rankings after a tournament during which they generated strong and well-deserved support at home.
However, they were thankful for a glaring miss from Bianca Schmidt four minutes from the end as they held on to their slender lead.
The result was tribute to the progress that England have made under Mark Sampson after the Welshman took over 18 months ago. It also put a positive spin on their campaign after the cruel 2-1 semi-final defeat following Laura Bassett’s injury-time own goal against Japan.
The team are set to receive an additional £2,000 for winning the bronze medal, taking their World Cup bonus payments to £14,000.
Sampson’s education as England head coach has now come full circle, following a 3-0 defeat by the eight-time European champions last November.
This time the 32-year-old Sampson chose to be more conservative in his tactical approach and it paid off as his team lined up with three centre-backs, which included Jo Potter alongside Steph Houghton and Bassett, who showed no hangover from her semi-final heartache.
But the formation allowed space in front of the defence and the European champions could have scored three times in the first 10 minutes, with tournament top scorer Celia Sasic wasting a great chance before the impressive Houghton cleared off the line.
During an open start to the game, Houghton had the best opening of the first half but mistimed her shot from seven yards. There was also a strong penalty appeal as Kemme appeared to block Potter’s shot with her hand.
In her last World Cup game in charge, German coach Silvia Neid became frustrated with England’s aggressive approach, but it ensured the match remained goalless at the break.
Having named an under-strength side, Neid brought on Melanie Leupolz to add more mettle to the German midfield and they began to create the better chances. Bardsley saved Sara Daebritz’s header before Houghton blocked Lena Petermann’s close-range shot.
But the introduction of Eniola Aluko, who had not played since England’s second game against Mexico, swung the game back in England’s favour and she laid on a pass to Jill Scott, who wasted a great opportunity with 13 minutes remaining.
The Lionesses were buoyed going into extra-time and their determination to not bow down to a world superpower of women’s football helped create the penalty, which led to joyous scenes at the final whistle as a superb campaign ended on a high.