England World Cup heartbreak puts referees in the spotlight
Heartbreak for England as Lionesses crash out of the Women's World Cup 2015 in 'the most English way possible'
Japan 2 England 1
English hearts were broken in Edmonton as their best ever World Cup campaign was ended by a last-minute own goal from defender Laura Bassett, condemning them to a 2-1 defeat to Japan. The Japanese will now progress to the final to face the USA on Sunday, while England face Germany in the third-place playoff on Saturday evening.
The close-fought game was packed with controversy, as the issue of refereeing standards raised its head again when two first-half penalties were awarded despite video replays showing that neither should have stood.
England coach Mark Sampson refused to blame Bassett for the defeat. "Laura Bassett's name is on that scoresheet but she has epitomised the team. She has been courageous and strong," he said. "It is a horrible moment for Laura but you can see how her team-mates regard her by their reaction. When that ball went over line, we were devastated but the first point of call was to look after your own."
Aya Miyama opened the scoring just after the half-hour mark, powering home from the penalty spot after Claire Rafferty fouled Saori Ariyoshi. Rafferty's foul was later shown to have taken place just outside of the box, meaning the referee and her assistant made a mistake awarding the spot kick.
England levelled just before half-time with an undeserved penalty of their own when Steph Houghton went down in the Japan box under minimal pressure, leaving Fara Williams to stroke home her second spot kick of the tournament.
The Lionesses rattled the crossbar twice after the break as they pushed hard for a winner, and they looked the more likely side to score before Bassett's moment of misfortune.
"Just as it seemed it would be England’s women who could bring the joy back to international football it all ended dramatically and, from an England perspective, horribly, as Laura Bassett, in attempting to intercept a cross, scooped it past her goalkeeper," reports The Times.
The England side looked devastated at the final whistle, with Bassett breaking down in tears and being consoled by her manager and teammates, but the sense around the country is that the team put in a performance to be proud of despite the result.
"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," said The Guardian.
Bassett and co must now dust themselves off and get ready to take on pre-tournament favourites Germany in one of sport's cruellest games – the third place playoff, which generally serves only to delay the losing semi-finalists from returning home by three or four days.