After showing considerable promise in the lead up to the tournament, England’s women fell at the same hurdle that has tripped up the men so many times in recent years – the quarter-finals.
To add another painful layer of familiarity to the picture, it was penalty kicks that proved their downfall after a typically gutsy display against a technically impressive French side – the game ending 1-1 after extra-time.
As the team prepare to fly back from Germany, most will go from playing in front of sold out German Bundesliga stadia to turning out in front of a few hundred people at club level.
But, looking at the wider picture, what is next for England’s women? How can they move on from the crushing blow of falling victim to the nation’s penalty curse?
Questions are now going to be asked about the future of long-serving manager Hope Powell. Undoubtedly a great servant to the women’s game, she dropped a big hint that she may be ready to relinquish the role she has held for 13 years.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” she said when quizzed about her future after the game. “The most important thing is that I want to be in women’s football, preferably in England.”
On the playing front, of the XI that started the quarter-final, skipper Faye White, Kelly Smith, Rachel Yankey and Casey Stoney are all 29 or over.
However, the prospect of playing in a home Olympics is known to be a big draw for the women - more so than for their male counterparts - so the usual raft of post-tournament retirements may be put on hold for at least twelve months.
Despite this, the likelihood is that by the time the next World Cup comes around, England will have to cope without the likes of White, Smith and Yankey, all of whom have over 100 caps to their name.
HOW WILL THE LIONESSES OF 2015 LINE UP?
Despite one major blip against Mexico, American-born goalkeeper Karen Bardsley has looked at home on the biggest stage, and thought at one stage she had set England on their way to the semi-finals with an early save in the shoot-out.
She wrestled the number one shirt away from long-time holder Rachel Brown who, at 31, may also have tasted her last World Cup action.
The back four which shone under relentless extra-time pressure from France is likely to have a few new additions over the next four year cycle.
The England set-up are known to have high hopes for Lincoln’s Sophie Bradley and, in her one game of this tournament – when she filled in for White against Japan – she looked the real deal as an international centre half. Playing with the vastly experienced Stoney at club level will also no doubt aid her development still further.
Despite missing her penalty, 22-year-old left back Claire Rafferty also looks to have a bright future ahead of her. She has impressed for Chelsea in the WSL this season, and may be the long-term successor to Rachel Unitt.
Alex Scott shone at right back throughout the tournament, and at 26, the American-based player should continue to be a mainstay of the England back-line for years to come.
Moving into midfield, and the form of Kelly Smith may well be the biggest disappointment of the tournament from an English perspective. Recognised as one of the world’s best, she never really got going, although ended her campaign by heroically scoring her penalty after an injury had made her a virtual spectator throughout extra-time.
Similarly, Fara Williams probably didn’t shine as much as she would have hoped to in Germany. Coming into the tournament off the back of a long injury lay-off, she showed glimpses of the brilliance she is renowned for in the English domestic game, but couldn’t quite sustain her high levels.
ENGLAND’S BIG SUCCESSES
The brightest sparks of the competition for England were arguably Jess Clarke and Jill Scott.
Lincoln winger Clarke showed herself as the natural successor to Yankey on the wing, and her winning goal against New Zealand may well prove her coming of age at international level.
Likewise, Scott transformed herself from reliable midfielder to all action, goalscoring hero. She claimed the equaliser against the Kiwis then the opener against France to cap a series of high energy, eye-catching displays.
Despite being dropped during the tournament, Karen Carney again proved that she well and truly belongs on the highest stage.
The Birmingham winger’s assist against Japan was a moment of huge quality, and Carney – still aged just 23 – is likely to go from strength to strength in coming years.
The forward line during the tournament was led by a combination of Eni Aluko and Ellen White. The former came in for criticism after missing chances against Mexico, but White’s lobbed finish against Japan will live long in the memory.
The Arsenal forward is prolific in the WSL and has shown signs that she could transfer that form to the international arena. At just 22, the England number 9 shirt is set to bear the name ‘White’ for a considerable time.
Other notable talents in the striking department include Everton’s Natasha Dowie and Birmingham’s Rachel Williams. Neither made this squad, but both will have high hopes of forcing their way into future travelling parties.
So, reasons to be cheerful? Certainly the performances of both Scotts, Unitt and Ellen White, coupled with the emergence of the likes of Bradley and Clarke.
If Powell does step down, it is surely vital that her experience is utilised in some capacity. She has overseen a huge growth in the women’s game in her time in charge, and despite this weekend’s disappointment, there is no reason why that growth can’t eventually be capped with a tournament win.
The European Championships take place in Sweden in two years time. What price England to go one step further than their final defeat in 2009?
Tags: Faye White, Hope Powell, Women's Football, Women's World Cup