Despite devastating World Cup exit, England’s women inspired a nation

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Despite defeat to Japan, England’s women have inspired a nation this summer.

LONDON — On a small side street just off a bustling road in central London, I walked past a flower stand this morning.

“Did you see the England women’s team last night?” asks one bloke to another. Brief interjections regarding the success of England’s Lionesses have been frequent across this nation I call home over the past few weeks during the World Cup in Canada.

It’s inspiring. It’s uplifting. And, most of all, it reflects the power soccer has on society on these shores.

On Thursday morning people across England were waking up to learn that head coach Mark Sampson and his side were devastatingly knocked out of the World Cup by reigning champions Japan in the cruelest of fashions. Laura Bassett’s last-gasp own goal handed the Japanese victory as English soccer now has another heartbreaking moment to add to a long list of “what might have been?” World Cup campaigns.

[ MORE: Future is bright for Lionesses ]

However this felt different. There was a positive vibe despite the tears on the pitch at the end of the game, which reminded most England fans of Paul Gascoigne sobbing uncontrollably at Italia ’90. England’s women had never won a knockout game at a World Cup finals before this summer but they pushed the defending champs all the way in the final four and were arguably the better team for vast swathes of the match. Only a cruel slice of luck denied them a spot in the World Cup final against the USA.

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Sampson consoles his players after the crushing defeat.

National newspapers held the printers until 2 a.m. local time on Thursday so they could splash England’s exploits all over the morning editions. The England women’s team was mentioned in parliament by Prime Minister David Cameron, plus a good luck message came from Prince William as well-wishers sprung up on TV and across social media to throw their support behind just the third English team in history to reach the semifinals of a World Cup.

[ MORE: Sampson praises Bassett after devastating own goal ]

Despite going out of the World Cup at the semifinal stage — just like the men’s side last did in 1990 in a similarly agonizing fashion following a penalty shootout defeat to Germany — what the 23 women on the English national team have achieved in Canada this summer cannot be underestimated.

Sure, it will take some time for England to become a nation who truly embraces women’s soccer like the United States, Canada or Germany does, but the achievements of the Lionesses reaching the final four against all the odds will have provided inspiration to millions of young girls across England.

“We came into this tournament as a huge underdog, with the weight of a nation on our back,” Sampson said in an emotional, awe-inspiring interview just after the full time whistle. “There were skeptics and critics who said we weren’t good enough to get this far and I’m just so proud of them [the players]. They’ve really inspired a nation back home and they deserve to go back home now as heroes. They’ve played their hearts out and given their all and we should all be very proud of them.”

Sampson was right. They have inspired a nation. As you can see below, fans gathered in bars in London to cheer on the team with the game in Edmonton kicking off at midnight local time, and despite England’s games kicking off late in the evening throughout the tournament, millions stayed up to watch and the BBC put the semifinal game vs. Japan on its marquee channel, BBC One.

Progress. Pride. Promotion. All three words epitomize what England’s unlikely run to the semifinals has been about.

But, due to many complex and deep-rooted reasons, there are big challenges ahead in the domestic game where most of England’s players ply their trade. The professional women’s league has had several incarnations in England but has never really taken off. In 2011 the FA’s NWL was set up and it now has 18 teams, but average crowds of just 719 for the 2014 season show how far women’s soccer still has to go to totally capture the minds of the English public. Compared those crowd figures to an average attendance of 4,137 for games in the NWSL in the U.S. and you start to understand why England’s successful run to the semifinals is a big deal and it can act as a catalyst for more interest in the women’s game in the nation which proudly calls itself the home of soccer.

[ MORE: Overwhelming support for Bassett ]

Women’s soccer is getting plenty of support from Premier League teams too as Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Sunderland, Everton, Aston Villa and Watford all have teams in the NWL. More giants of England soccer will need to support the women’s game going forward, and momentum from this World Cup success should not be allowed to drift away.

One factor that will hurt women’s soccer in England is that Team GB will not enter an Olympic team for Rio 2016 despite England qualifying through their World Cup performance. Due to disputes between the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish FA’s about linking up to field one team for Great Britain, no team will be entered in 2016. But you can’t help but think success in the Olympics would help grow the women’s game further in the UK as a whole. Putting those politics aside, the Lionesses now have a platform to build from by setting new records in Canada this summer. With the English FA investing millions in the women’s game and attendances of over 45,000 at Wembley Stadium for a friendly vs. Germany in 2014, the signs of progress are clear for all to see.

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Laura Bassett of England is comforted by her teammates.

“I know the team are bitterly disappointed,” said HRH Prince William, who is also the honorary president of the English FA, on Thursday. “But I hope more than that they will be proud of what they have achieved. They’ve inspired thousands of girls and boys around the country and entered history as one of England’s great teams.”

Now, soccer fans in England need to embrace the women’s game like they’ve never done before as young female players of the future will look back at late night’s spent watching the likes of Jill Scott, Steph Houghton and Fara Williams playing in the summer of 2015 as the moment they awoke to the power soccer bestows.

England’s players did more than just reach the semifinal of the World Cup. They inspired a nation.

“I really hope that tomorrow morning at 6 o’clock in the morning before school, thousands of young girls who have never kicked a football before, will pick up a football and say, ‘Mom, I want to be Laura Bassett today,’” added Sampson.

On the evidence of the past few weeks, plenty of young girls will have done just that this morning across England. Sampson and his side can be proud of their achievements. Just like the whole of England is.

Americans Abroad: Chandler, Gooch score; Reyna, Vassilev debut

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The bar for the best weekend for Americans abroad in 2020 has been set.

After months with the under-19 side, 18-year-old Giovanni Reyna made his debut with Borussia Dortmund on Saturday. In England, Indiana Vassilev, 18, did exactly the same for Aston Villa, becoming the second youngest American to play in the Premier League.

Established Americans abroad like Timothy Chandler scored Eintracht Frankfurt’s match winner, while Lynden Gooch struck from distance for Sunderland in England’s League One.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

Premier League

Christian Pulisic, Chelsea — The USMNT star continues to recover from an abductor injury.

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — Yedlin is also recovering from an injury, and did not dress for Newcastle on Saturday.

Indiana Vassilev, Aston Villa – The 18-year-old came off the bench and played 23 minutes in his Premier League debut for Aston Villa. Villa drew 1-1 with Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday.

EFL Championship

Duane Holmes, Derby County — Holmes played 90 minutes in Derby’s 1-0 win over Hull City on Saturday.

Antonee Robinson, Wigan Athletic — Robinson started and played 90 minutes in Wigan’s 2-1 loss to Swansea City on Saturday.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — The 24-year-old dressed but didn’t feature in Reading’s 2-0 loss to Millwall.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers’ defender started and played for Hull.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — The 34-year-old defender played 90 minutes in QPR’s 1-0 victory ver Leeds United on Saturday.

Tim Ream, Fulham — Ream started and played 90 minutes in Fulham’s 1-0 win over Middlesbrough.

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — Weah and Lille were inactive this weekend.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — Jordon-Siebatcheu and Rennes were inactive this weekend. 

Eredivisie

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — Wright came off the bench and played five minutes in Venlo’s 1-1 draw with PSV.

Sergino Dest, Ajax — Dest dressed but didn’t feature for Ajax over the weekend. It’s been an on-and-off cycle for the fullback in Holland’s top-flight.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback is injured and didn’t feature for FC Emmen.

Bundesliga

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — The fullback played 90 minutes and scored Frankfurt’s match-winning goal on Saturday against Hoffenheim. 

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams started and played 86 minutes in Leipzig’s 3-1 win over Union Berlin. The midfielder completed 84 percent of his passes.

Weston McKennie, Schalke — McKennie is still having some setbacks from his shoulder injury. The midfielder didn’t dress for Schalke due to fitness issues over the weekend.

Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Steffen is inactive with an injury.

Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf Morales started and played 71 minutes in Fortuna’s 1-0 loss to Werder Bremen.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  The 19-year-old started and played 86 minutes on Saturday. It’s refreshing to see Sargent back on the field, getting regular playing time after the injury.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach Johnson was on Mönchengladbach’s bench but didn’t play.

Honorable Mentions

Lynden Gooch, Sunderland — Gooch has been superlative for Sunderland lately, and on Saturday, he was rewarded with this match-deciding goal:

Ian Harkes, Dundee United — Harkes continues to grind it out in Scotland. On Sunday, he registered an assist in Dundee United’s 2-2 draw with Hibernian. 

Mexicans Abroad: Jimenez makes Wolves history; Guardado assists in Betis win

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On what was perhaps Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s last weekend in Europe, Raul Jimenez made it clear that he is ready to carry on the mantle as Mexico’s marquee striker in the old continent.

The 28-year-old’s double made him Wolverhampton Wanderer’s Premier League all-time leading goalscorer, surpassing Steven Fletcher‘s record of 22 goals in just 61 appearances.

Meanwhile in Spain, Andres Guardado continues to add remarkable chapters to his never-ending European photo book, recording an assist in Real Betis’ 3-0 thumping of Real Sociedad.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.


Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers —  Not only did Jimenez boost his league goalscoring tally to the double digits on Saturday, but he also became Wolves’ Premier League all-time goalscorer. The Mexican is indispensable for the Midlands side – well worth the club-record $33-million investment.

La Liga

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Sevilla — Chicharito did not make the trip with Sevilla to the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday. On Friday, Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl reported that Los Angeles Galaxy have signed the 31-year-old. An official announcement from the MLS side is expected in the coming days.

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — Herrera started and played 43 minutes in Los Colchoneros’ rare, 2-0 loss to Eibar on Saturday. Atletico are now eight points behind leaders Barcelona and second-best Real Madrid.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  Guardado played all 90 minutes and recorded an assist in Betis’ trashing of Real Sociedad. The midfielder also earned a yellow card in the 23rd minute.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old dressed but remained on the bench for Betis. 

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo started and played 90 minutes in Celta’s 1-1 draw with Athletic Bilbao. The defender recorded 11 clearances, two interceptions, and earned a yellow card.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli —  As Napoli’s continues to suffer under Gennaro Gattuso, so does Chucky. The frenetic winger saw just 26 minutes of playing time in Napoli’s 2-0 loss to Fiorentina on Saturday. Gattuso, however, may be on his was out as reports indicated that he’s considering resigning after just 35 days at the helm.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Tecatito started and played all 90 minutes in Porto’s 2-1 loss to Braga on Saturday. The Dragons trail league leaders Benfica by seven points.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven —  Gutierrez dressed but remained on the bench for PSV on Saturday.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Alvarez dressed but remained on the bench for Ajax on Sunday.

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea started and played 90 minutes in Zulte’s 3-0 loss to KRC Genk.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Pedro Arce, Panionios –  Panionios were inactive over the weekend.

Gerardo Ramirez Alonso, Roda JC – Ramirez Alonso and Roda JC take on Jong FC Utrecht on Monday.

Unhappy reunion for Klinsmann as Bayern beats Hertha 4-0

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BERLIN (AP) Jurgen Klinsmann endured an unhappy reunion with Bayern Munich as his former protege Thomas Muller started a 4-0 Bundesliga rout of his Hertha Berlin team.

“It was nice to see him again but of course even nicer to win,” Muller said after Sunday’s victory lifted Bayern to second place, four points behind Leipzig.

Klinsmann gave Muller the first of his so far 336 Bundesliga appearances when he brought on the then 18-year-old for the last 10 minutes of a 2-2 draw with Hamburger SV on the opening day of the 2008-09 season. Klinsmann was fired as Bayern coach in April 2009 as its title hopes faded.

But Muller has only fond memories of his mentor, who later went on to be United States coach.

“I have a special relationship with Jurgen Klinsmann. He made me a professional. I still have the mailbox message from when he called me up for the start of training with the professionals,” Muller said. “He gave me my chance to earn my spurs. He put me straight in. He was my first coach.”

Klinsmann was only cleared to face his former club on Saturday after the German soccer federation and league confirmed they received missing documents for his coaching license.

But Klinsmann, who also played for Bayern between 1995-97 and coached Germany at the 2006 World Cup, could only watch as his team was completely outplayed in the second half.

Hertha showed little initiative going forward and finally paid the price for sitting back when Muller rifled in from close range.

“The first goal opened the game,” said Klinsmann, who had been hoping to extend Hertha’s unbeaten run to five games.

The visitors thought they had another goal minutes later, but Robert Lewandowski’s goal was ruled out through VAR for heading the ball out of Rune Jarstein’s hands.

Lewandowski finally got his goal from the penalty spot in the 72nd after Lukas Klunter tugged Leon Goretzka’s arm.

“The turning point was the penalty,” said Klinsmann, who felt it was a harsh decision.

Thiago Alcantara sealed the result three minutes later with a brilliant strike in off the underside of the bar after Goretzka sent him through, and Ivan Perisic headed in Muller’s cross in the 84th.

Bayern had been missing defenders Niklas Sule, Lucas Hernandez and Javi Martinez through injury, with forward Kingsley Coman also out and midfielder Joshua Kimmich suspended. Canadian teen Alphonso Davies made his 10th consecutive league start.

Santiago Ascacibar started for his Hertha debut after his winter transfer from second-division Stuttgart. The combative Argentine is Hertha’s first signing following financier Lars Windhorst’s investment of $250 million in the club.

Also Sunday, Bayer Leverkusen won 4-1 at bottom side Paderborn to move sixth.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

La Liga roundup: Messi scores, wins game in Setien’s Barcelona debut (video)

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Barcelona’s vintage playing style in their 1-0 win over Granada highlights La Liga’s Sunday action.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Barcelona 1-0 Granda

With a goal from Lionel Messi against an iron-willed Granada, Barcelona are back at the top of La Liga.

The win is the club’s first under Quique Setien, who debuted as the Catalans manager after replacing Ernesto Valverde.

Barcelona rolled back to the years of Pep Guardiola‘s tiki-taka, as they culminated the game with 83 percent possession and completed 1005 passes. That said, Granda – playing  with 10 men from the 69h minute on – were bulletproof until the 76th minute. Messi gently pushed the ball with his weak foot, finishing what had been a series of fluid, build-up passing.

Setien deployed a nuanced 3-4-3 variation – far from Valverde’s 4-3-3 formation that ended up costing him his job after losing to Atletico Madrid in the Super Copa semifinals.

Players like Sergio Busquets were asked about the distinct styles, but he was candidly opposed to comparing the managers and their philosophies.

“We were a solid team. We had control of the ball. They created little against us,” he told Movistar. “It’s true that we struggled when they dropped deep but, in general terms, the team played a good game.

“It’s not about comparing. Every coach has his style and his way of seeing football. You’ll see what Setien asks us to do. We’re not going to reveal it. We’re delighted with what Ernesto did and we’re delighted with Setien.”

With Real Madrid and Atletico right behind, the defending champions have a long way to go this season. They’ll have to build on the win and, more importantly, further deepen their chemistry under the ex-Real Betis boss. Integrating winter signings into the fold might present itself as a challenge, too.

But one thing is certain: Barcelona can still play like they did back in their glory days. If that sticks, a lot can happen.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Mallorca 4-1 Valencia

Real Betis 3-0 Real Sociedad

Villarreal 1-2 Espanyol

Athletic Bilbao 1-1 Celta Vigo