Let’s raise bar says Sampson after heartbreak for Lionesses

England's Josanne Potter, right, consoles Laura Bassett (6) after a 2-1 loss to Japan in a semifinal in the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer tournament. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)
England's Josanne Potter, right, consoles Laura Bassett (6) after a 2-1 loss to Japan in a semifinal in the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer tournament. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Heartbroken England coach Mark Sampson hailed his “heroes” and dismissed the theory they joined a list of glorious failures by falling cruelly short of the Women’s World Cup final.

A stoppage-time own goal from Laura Bassett gave Japan a 2-1 semi-final victory in Edmonton, after England’s dominance of the second half went unrewarded.

Fara Williams had earlier slotted her second penalty of the tournament to counter a Japanese spot-kick.

Sampson vowed to drive women’s football from strength to strength at home following the stunning success of the Lionesses in Canada, where they beat Norway and the host nation in the knock-out stage to reach the final four for the first time.

“I’m going to demand that everyone back home really ups their game and we commit everything we can to keep growing this sport in our country,” said Sampson.

“We’ve got some amazing people involved in women’s football and I know they’re hurting right now, but I know they’re going to get up and say ‘Come on, let’s keep this snowball rolling’.

“Let’s make sure that next time we go to a major championship England has the strongest women’s football programme in the world. We have that potential because of the quality of the people we have in our programme.

“No more excuses, there’s no more catalyst needed. Now it’s about ‘Let’s stay together, let’s raise the bar and let’s nail it, let’s get it done, why not?’.”

Success at Euro 2017 in Holland will be the target for England, once tomorrow’s third-place play-off against Germany is out of the way.

Almost 25 years to the day since Bobby Robson’s England were beaten on penalties by West Germany in the Italia 90 World Cup semi-finals, and 19 years after Terry Venables’s side exited Euro 96 in equally heartbreaking circumstances, it was suggested to Sampson that his team had followed a national tradition.

“There is no failure on our behalf. No failure from this team. This team have over-achieved,” said Sampson. “They’ve achieved things no-one thought they could achieve.

“Football at this level is cruel. Moments change matches and sometimes not always the best teams win and sometimes you don’t get what you deserve.

“All you can do as a group of people is commit yourself wholeheartedly to a game plan. You can emotionally give everything on the field for your team-mates and you can fight to the end, and in every single game this team have done that and in my book that’ll never be a failure.

“Come on everyone back home, let’s raise the bar, let’s build on what this team has done.

“Someone had to be the trailblazer, someone had to put their foot down and step out and say we’re going to make a difference, we’re going to be the catalyst.”

Sampson’s profile has soared along with that of his players, the likes of captain Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze, Williams and – in the most unfortunate circumstances – Bassett now becoming household names.

“We’re a team who will go home knowing we could not have done any more, given one more ounce of blood, sweat or tears, smiles,” said Sampson.

“I’ve very proud of this group. What this team have done for the women’s game back home I know will have a lasting legacy because the way we’ve gone out, as hard as it is, will make them even more heroes.”

The 32-year-old Welshman at the helm of England has transformed a side who were dismal under Hope Powell’s leadership at Euro 2013 in Sweden, adopting an open-door policy both in terms of selection and being willing to lend an ear to his players.