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Fara Williams’ extra-time penalty sees England beat Germany to third place

England may have failed to reach the World Cup final but the Lionesses did the next best thing. After 31 years of consistent disappointment against Germany, Mark Sampson’s side beat them for the first time and will return home with the set of bronze medals awarded to the tournament’s third-placed side.

Fara Williams had been excellent all afternoon and, appropriately, it was her extra-time penalty in Edmonton which secured this famous victory. Much more than a local squabble between the two losing semi-finalists, the match served as a barometer of England’s impressive progress since Silvia Neid’s side swatted them aside 3-0 in a friendly at Wembley last November.

This was not the way a woman described as “the greatest coach in the history of the women’s game” by Sampson had intended to mark her final fixture in charge of Germany before stepping down, and Neid looked suitably miffed. She is unlikely to be the last manager to be outwitted by the 32-year-old Welshman.

In finishing third, he has presided over the most successful English World Cup campaign by a team of either gender since 1966 and will surely feature on the country’s next honours list.

“An incredible result,” said Sampson. “I’m incredibly proud to finally beat Germany, finish third and return home as the best team in Europe. This team will be remembered forever. We felt we could win the World Cup so losing to Japan was tough to take but we’ve gone on to achieve something special.”

Another game meant another opportunity for a little more tactical experimentation on Sampson’s part. Sure enough, he showcased a back three.

The idea was presumably to thwart Celia Sasic and company but England’s coach had taken a risk by asking Jo Potter, normally a midfielder, to operate alongside Steph Houghton and Laura Bassett in that defensive trinity.

When, before kick-off, Bassett’s name was announced over the public address system, the Commonwealth Stadium erupted into a spontaneous cheer. Everyone knew all about the agony of her stoppage-time own goal in the semi-final against Japan here on Wednesday and most would have been delighted to see her defend with poise and assurance.

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With Germany starting strongly, though, Potter very nearly scored an own goal of her own when she appeared set to turn a cross beyond Karen Bardsley’s grasp. Happily, Steph Houghton was on hand to rescue the situation, England’s captain making a superb, last-gasp, highly acrobatic, clearance off the line.

Sasic may be the tournament’s leading scorer but she should have done better than direct an inviting early chance straight into Bardsley’s grateful arms.

It was time for the Lionesses to remind everyone that they do not know the meaning of giving up. True to character, they rallied with only a scuffed shot preventing Houghton from scoring and Germany’s Tabea Kemme surviving English claims that she should have conceded a handball penalty.

By now Lucy Bronze was justifying her label as one of the stars of Canada 2015 by driving Sampson’s side on from right wing-back. As the half-time whistle blew Germany had contributed the more fluent passing but neither side had proved able to take advantage of mutually vulnerable defences and unleash that all-important incisive final ball.

Neid, though, was becoming increasingly vexed by what she clearly perceived as some rough-house tactics from England, including some rather wince-inducing challenges.

If a sparse crowd, shivering in suddenly chill conditions out of step with the warmth Edmonton had enjoyed in previous days, did not exactly help the atmosphere, the action remained intense.

Bardsley performed wonders to turn Sara Däbritz’s volley around a post after her connection with Sasic’s cross threatened to shatter the impasse.

Sampson adjusted the power balance by replacing Ellen White with Eniola Aluko. Yet as much as Aluko’s pace and directness ruffled Germany, when Kemme dribbled beyond three markers Bardsley looked mighty relieved to see her shot whizz fractionally wide.

With England now less about containment than a growing willingness to press Germany higher up the pitch, things had become very open. Sampson thought his side deserved a penalty when Williams’s 30-yard shot was blocked but his pleas proved forlorn.

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Extra time beckoned. In its second period the breakthrough finally arrived when Kemme hauled down Lianne Sanderson. Despite considerable German protests, led by Nadine Angerer, Williams stepped up to take the penalty, and her low kick sent Angerer the wrong way.

There were a couple of frights when Anja Mittag’s free-kick forced Bardsley into a fine save and again as Bianca Schmidt headed an Alexandra Popp cross wide, but England were on a mission. The Lionesses had an important audience watching on television back home and, refusing to disappoint their new public, they held on long enough to ensure history was made.


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