The game that nobody wants to play; the two losing semi-finalists go head-to-head to determine who finishes third in the World Cup.
This years game was between Germany, the twice World Cup winners, and England who have reached the furthest they have ever done.
For the Germans it was a poignant game; the last that former world player of the year Nadine Angerer would play and also the last game Silvia Neid would be at the helm for. For England, they were looking for their first ever win against the mighty Germans and were also keen to put right the pain of conceding a late own goal that meant Japan went through to the final.
It must be a hard game to motivate a team for, as the disappointment of not reaching the final is so fresh. Yet both coaches were talking about how motivated they, and their players were for this game, both of them wanting to finish as the highest placed European team.
Germany had the better start, which included having a goal cleared off the line by England captain Steph Houghton, but England soon made some probing attacking plays that got through the Germans defence, but not past Angerer. It was a keenly fought, intense, physical contest, both teams wanting to impress on their opponents.
Back in November they met for a friendly game at Wembley Stadium; a game that Germany dominated, controlled and won 3 nil. England looked leagues below them then. Yet in this game, the Lionesses held their own, possibly due to the Germans having made 5 changes, which included bringing in some young players who had yet to start in the tournament. Mark Sampson had made his own changes in personnel and formation once again, this time opting for 3 centre backs in defence.
Nothing could separate the teams in 90 minutes although Germany had worked the England keeper more than Angerer had been called into action. Interestingly Sampson switched the England formation to 4-4-2 part way through the second half which seemed to give his team a slight edge. But another 30minutes of football was needed.
The first half of extra time carried on where 90 minutes had left off, both teams attacking, yet neither making a breakthrough. But then finally, after 108 minutes, England were awarded a penalty; substitute Lianne Sanderson held back as she tried to run onto a through ball just inside the area. Germany protested vehemently, even to the point of Angerer and Popp trying to put off penalty taker Williams. It was unsporting, yet Williams held her nerve, putting a perfectly placed ball in to the corner of the net with the retiring Angerer diving the opposite way.
There was still plenty of time left, but despite Germany pressing forward, they could not find an equaliser. England defended doggedly and with determination. The battling Lionesses held on, which meant at the 21st attempt, they had finally beaten their nemesis and took third place.
It was a rare sight indeed to see the Germans dejected on the sideline as they watched the medal ceremony, and surely bitterly disappointing for their 2 retiring colleagues, Angerer and Neid. But for England, it was time to celebrate.
Only the men’s team in 1966 have finished higher in the World Cup. For a football mad nation, this is a long time to wait for something to cheer about.
Poignantly, Mark Sampson did not put his medal around his neck. Instead, the young held coach held it out with one hand, then with the other, pointed at the support staff, coaches & players, then pointed back to the medal.
As the Lionesses shout after the team huddle: “1,2,3 TEAM!”