|espnW.com: News & Opinion|
LEVERKUSEN, Germany -- In the end, all there was left for England was its heart.
More than two grueling hours of soccer against a tenacious French side had stripped the players of their legs, flexibility, energy and strength.
Their captain, Faye White, continued to play on, limping on a twisted left ankle and suffering through leg cramps.
But it wasn't enough, as this quarterfinal drama in FIFA Women's World Cup Stadium on Saturday came down to penalty kicks. France, which had looked superior all game, stood steady and won the 1-all game, through a 4-3 tally in penalty kicks. White, who volunteered to shoot last, had a chance to tie the penalty kick affair.
But she ripped her shot off the crossbar, deflecting it over the net, and England lost. The English fell down in utter dejection and exhaustion, while the French launched a frenzied team celebration nearby. It is the first time France has reached the Women's World Cup semifinals.
And it was the first time since the epic 1999 World Cup final, between China and the U.S., that penalty kicks decided a game.
"We were desperately unlucky," English coach Hope Powell said. "I feel worse, sorry, for the girls, the players who stepped up to take the penalties. ... I admired that Faye stepped up when nobody else wanted to do it. She had the guts and the nerve to try to get England into the semifinals.
"She is desperately upset. She's had a magnificent career. ... In taking that penalty, I have nothing but admiration for her. This could have happened to anybody. It's unfortunate the game has to end some way, it ended badly for us."
White, who was clearly distraught, refused to speak to the media after the game. At 33, this was likely her last World Cup and possibly last time playing for England's national team.
Powell hinted at some major changes of her own after the game, discussing her desire to take on a different role within England's Football Association. She has coached England since 1998 and has openly discussed making a change.
This loss in the World Cup might signal the end of her tenure.
"To be honest, within the FA, we're looking at something that could come to fruition, [it's] wait and see," Powell said. "The most important thing is I want to be in women's football, preferably in England. If the opportunity presented itself, yeah, undoubtedly [take a new job.]"
France controlled most of the game, but it was England that was able to score first.
Jill Scott eluded two French defenders and scored in the 59th minute, giving England hope that it was destined for its first trip to the semifinals.
"I am proud of all of us, we fought," Scott said. "At end of day, everybody gave their all, we just had to play defense for too long."
France kept making run after run, mounting scoring chance after chance, narrowly just missing or being stopped by goalie Karen Bardsley.
It was going to be a race between England hanging on to its slim lead to win or France finally scoring at the end.
The breakthrough came in the 87th minute for France. Elise Bussaglia cleaned up on a loose ball in the box, tying the game with only a few minutes to go.
The French rode a renewed wave of strength, while the English clearly deflated on the field.
"It was tough, very tense," Powell said of the final minutes of regulation. "And the quality of France showed. I was just trying to [say] please, wind [down] the clock quicker and quicker. But it shows, it's never over until the final whistle."
France had more chances in the two extra time periods, and England desperately tried to hang on. White and Scott started cramping. Striker Kelly Smith slowed, sapped of strength.
Still, England survived to reach the penalty kicks.
Both coaches asked their teams for volunteers. England had the usual big players, White, Karen Carney and Smith, step up. Newcomer Claire Rafferty raised her hand, too.
France had its stars, Sonia Bompastor, Camille Abily and Bussaglia, volunteer.
France went first, and Abily stunned the crowd of 26,395, by failing on her attempt. Bardsley made the save, and England seemed re-energized.
England's Smith, Karen Carney and Casey Stoney all buried their shots. The next four French shooters, Bussaglia, Gaetane Thiney, Sonia Bompastor and Eugenie Le Sommer, scored.
Rafferty missed badly, wide left of the goal.
So it was left up to White. Make the shot and keep England alive for another round of penalty kicks. Miss, and the World Cup is over.
"There is a certain magic to football," France coach Bruno Bini said through a translator. "Those penalties reduced my life by 10 years. ... Life is beautiful, we worked so hard for this. ... We didn't get our reward until the very end. You can do all the practice you can imagine, but even the best players can miss a penalty."
Abily, who was named player of the match for her play at midfield, said her team was understandably exhausted and exhilarated.
"We believed that it would be possible equalize until the very end," Abily said. "We always had the mental strength; all the players have a competitive spirit. We knew, as far as our mind, that this was possible. We had the self-confidence."