England continued to rewrite history at this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada as the Lionesses defeated Germany for the first time in their history to win the third-place play-off in extra time on Saturday night.
Mark Sampson’s women quickly wiped away the tears from Wednesday’s devastating semi-final defeat to Japan to topple Silvia Neid’s side, with Fara Williams’ historic winning penalty a moment that will live long in the memory for all Lioness fans.
Having lost all 20 of their previous meetings against the world number one side, the Lionesses defeated the pre-tournament favourites for the first time in 31 years to become the second best England team to feature in a World Cup behind the men’s triumph back in 1966.
Sampson, managing in his first major tournament, made four changes to the side that lost 2-1 to finalists Japan, with Alex Greenwood, Karen Carney, Jo Potter and Ellen White all starting inside Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.
Meanwhile Germany coach Neid, who was taking charge of her country for the last time in a World Cup, made five changes to the side that went down 2-0 to the USA during their surprise semi-final defeat on Tuesday.
Having thrashed Ivory Coast 10-0 during their Group B opener last month, it was no surprise that the European champions almost broke the deadlock inside 60 seconds as Sara Daebritz latched onto Lena Petermann’s delivery, but her effort was expertly palmed away by goalkeeper Karen Bardsley.
Just seven minutes later, the two-time world champions were knocking loudly on England’s door once again when captain Steph Houghton was forced to make a brilliant last-ditch goal-line clearance to deny team-mate Potter’s misplaced header gifting Germany the lead.
The Manchester City defender, the only player to play every minute of England’s World Cup campaign this summer, then scuffed the Lionesses best chance in the opening half when she failed to find her feet in front of goal after Lucy Bronze had brilliantly picked her out.
After a goalless opening 45 minutes, England keeper Bardsley was once again on her toes early in the second period to cancel out Daebritz’s latest effort in the 53rd minute, before thankfully watching Tabea Kemme’s meaningful run and powerful long-range shot flash wide of her left-hand post.
With the fierce rivalry in full swing between the two nations, Jill Scott should have given England the upper hand when substitute Eniola Aluko threaded her through on goal, but the Manchester City midfielder took too many touches inside Nadine Angerer’s terrority, allowing the German shot-stopper to eventually recover what was a dangerous situation.
Having bravely held the tournament’s top goalscorers (20) to scraps in normal time, England’s first-ever World Cup third place play-off entered extra-time as Frankfurt midfielder Simone Laudehr came closest to edging eight-time European champions Germany ahead in the first-half, but she wastefully guided her free header well wide of Bardsley’s goal.
However, when substitute Lianne Sanderson found an extra yard of pace inside Germany’s penalty area early in the second period, England defied the odds to snatch the bronze medal from Germany’s grasp when referee Ri Hyang Ok pointed to the spot.
After Kemme pulled back the shirt of Arsenal forward Sanderson, England’s most decorated player, Williams stepped up to coolly tuck away her third penalty of the finals in the 108th minute – her 40th goal for England on her 147th international appearance.
With the rest of the Lionesses squad anxiously awaiting the final whistle on the sidelines; top-seeded Germany threatened to break English hearts once again by netting a dramatic equaliser when the ball fell kindly for Bianca Schmidt at the back post, but somehow the defender fluffed her lines as the ball bounced off her shoulder.
After 120 minutes of feisty football, England’s women claimed victory in the ‘Champions of Europe’ match in their World Cup third place play-off, where Sampson’s Lionesses will be bumped up to their highest-ever world ranking following their epic bronze medal victory in Canada.
England’s victors Japan face the USA in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup final in Vancouver on Monday (00:00).