Late own goal ends England women’s World Cup dream

Laura Basset puts the ball in her own net in injury time to send Japan to Vancouver final

Japan 2 England 1

England’s World Cup dream concluded in the cruellest fashion when Laura Bassett’s stoppage time own goal re-routed Mark Sampson’s Lionesses from the final in Vancouver to Heathrow.

Bassett was in tears after slicing an intended clearance into her own net at the end of an evening on which England had held their own against a slick passing, technically accomplished, but largely non-penetrative, Japan side.

Defensively excellent, Sampson’s players persistently forced their opponents to construct their passing triangles down a series of cul-de-sacs and blind alleys. Perhaps ironically, they came undone when the geometry-obsessed World Cup holders delivered a rare cross.


A semi-final England’s coach had predicted would be very much about set pieces was level courtesy of a pair of somewhat debatable penalties, and drifting into extra time when Japan broke and Nahomi Kawusumi unleashed an excellent, subtly curving ball from the right. If anyone needed a reminder of why high-calibre crosses change games, this was it.

Under acute pressure from two attackers, Bassett attempted to clear but merely succeeded in forcing the ball over Karen Bardsley’s head before watching in horror as it grazed the underside of the bar and dropped a yard over the line.

As tears began rolling down Bassett’s face, the final whistle blew. Instantly the centre half was engulfed by team-mates desperate to offer her a consolatory hug.

Bassett and the rest of Sampson’s squad must travel back to London via Saturday’s third place playoff against Germany, while Japan will face USA in the following day’s denouement.

Prince William and David Cameron had been at the front of the queue of well wishers sending the Lionesses good luck messages on Wednesday, but Norio Sasaki was not convinced.

“There are places where England fall unintentionally apart,” said Japan’s coach, somewhat sniffily, shortly before kick off. “I wonder how they have been so successful so far?”

Shortly after kickoff, Jodie Taylor looked set to ruffle his confidence after connecting with Karen Bardsley's long kick – but she directed her volley slightly off target.

After that, much of the first half was all about Japan dominating possession, with the Lionesses struggling to second-guess Aya Miyami’s midfield promptings and sometimes wrongfooted by the classy Rumi Utsugi.

The good news for Sampson was that the Nadeshiko struggled to get behind a supremely well organised defence, and Bardsley was barely troubled. Indeed, on admittedly rare counter-attacks invariably featuring long balls, Jill Scott and Taylor, the Lionesses looked reasonably threatening.

Everything changed when Claire Rafferty shoved Saori Ariyoshi just inside the area – England protested, forlornly, it was just outside – and Miayma stepped up to take the penalty. Despite delaying her kick and then stuttering in the run-up, she sent Bardsley the wrong way.

If Sampson had a case for arguing that Rafferty’s inital push had been made marginally outside the area, he could have had no complaints when England – due £35,000 per woman bonuses had they lifted the trophy – won a distinctly iffy penalty of their own.

This time, Steph Houghton tumbled all too easy in the face of Yuki Ogimi's challenge, but the referee bought it and Fara Williams stepped up to the spot. Sampson's set-piece specialist did not let him down, her kick comfortably evading Ayumi Kaihori's grasp.

With Taylor's knee – she had surgery only two months ago – forcing her replacement by Ellen White after an hour, Japan looked relieved. They appeared even more so as Toni Duggan's shot rebounded off the bar.

Sasaki introduced Mana Iwabuchi – aka "The Killer" – from the bench, and the creator dubbed "the brightest flower" of the Japanese women's game promptly began causing England all sorts of problems as she ran through a repertoire of tricks. So many, indeed, that there was a strong suspicion that Sampson, ever streetwise, instructed Bardsley to fake an injury in order to use the break in play to re-group his Lionesses.

No matter. Despite Taylor’s withdrawl, England remained very much in the game. White forced a splendid save from Japan’s goalkeeper Kaihori, and Jill Scott headed wide.

Extra time and possibly penalties were beckoning – but then Bassett, otherwise excellent for England throughout this tournament, endured the worst moment of her career.

In time, even she may be able to see the bigger picture. It involves the Lionesses’ achievement in reaching the semi finals of a women’s World Cup for the first time, and becoming the first national team of either gender to make the last four since Sir Bobby Robson’s boys of Italia 90.

They may have stumbled at the penultimate hurdle but, with a nation newly inspired, it will be a major surprise if the topography of the female game in England does not alter beyond recognition.

(Guardian service)