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Sunday, July 10, 2011
Updated: July 11, 9:00 AM ET
England finds lessons in heartbreaking loss

By Joanne C. Gerstner

FRANKFURT, Germany -- There is no way of easing the pain, the disappointment, not to mention the soreness of bodies, for Team England on Sunday.

Their World Cup is over, and now they will spend four years until the next one wondering what might have been. They packed their luggage and boarded a plane from Dusseldorf to London to end their nearly three-week trip.

The impact of Saturday's quarterfinal, a 1-all draw with France that was dramatically decided 4-3 in penalty kicks, was still clearly being felt emotionally and physically.

France advanced to Wednesday's semifinals in Monchengladbach and will face the U.S., which also advanced on penalty kicks over Brazil on Sunday. England finished its World Cup run with two wins, a tie and the penalty-kick result.

England's players walk away with the unusual distinction of being only the second team in World Cup history to be eliminated without losing a game. China was the first to run through the World Cup without a loss, denied the 1999 title as the U.S. won on penalty kicks.

Captain Faye White, who missed England's final shot in penalty kicks, expressed her thoughts via Twitter on Sunday. The defender was too upset to speak to the media after Saturday's game, walking past reporters while crying.

"Can only say that has to be the worst feeling ever to have to feel in sport. But I would rather try & give everything than not try at all!" White tweeted.

A few minutes later, she added, "Team showed great character & spirit not to give up. We didn't play our best against a good French team but am honoured 2 b part of this team."

White's future is among a list of major decisions that lie ahead for England before serious preparations begin for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. England has an automatic entry into the Olympic soccer tournament thanks to being the host nation.

Coach Hope Powell wants to move to a different role within England's Football Association, and aging stars Kelly Smith and White could retire.

The players who are staying in the program, such as goalie Karen Bardsley, Rachel Yankey, Karen Carney and Jill Scott, see the World Cup experience as a valuable lesson for the future.

England has now reached the quarterfinals three times but never advanced. This was the first time of the three quarterfinal appearances that England came in as the group stage winner.

"This team will bounce back, no doubt about it," said Yankey, a forward. "We'll bounce back from that, we'll grow together and we'll push on. Hopefully we can do well at the Olympics, the European Championships, the next World Cup.

"I think teams are starting to look at England at a serious candidate."

Bardsley acutely shouldered the pressure of the penalty kicks, trying to get stops. She saved France's first attempt, a low shot to the right by midfielder Camille Abily, giving England a boost of adrenaline and courage.

But the next four kicks from France were dead-on, and Bardsley couldn't do anything.

"We gave it our all out there, and I don't think anyone could have asked any more of us," Bardsley told FIFA.com. "You can practice penalties in training, but obviously you can't compare that to what you find here, with a full stadium, the fans putting pressure on you and a place in the World Cup semifinals at stake."

This was striker Ellen White's first World Cup experience, and she played a big role in England's wins over New Zealand and Japan. She sees England's emerging core of younger players becoming tougher for the future.

"It's a massive experience for me to come to my first World Cup," White said. "It'll definitely bring us together. We're a close-knit team; nobody blames anyone. We win together, we lose together. We're just proud of each other at the moment, really."

The grueling and long nature of the France game taught some players such as Scott what they need to do to overcome pain. White, Scott and others were cramping up during extra time, pushed to their breaking points by France's demanding offensive pace.

"It was an emotional roller coaster," Scott said. "Before the game I said, 'I've never had a cramp.' I've had a cramp now. But all the girls were brilliant. As you could see, some of them were struggling with injuries at the end.

"We had to defend for our lives, but we've defended well in this tournament. We've added that to our game now."