“It’s OK to cry.”
That’s what England coach Mark Sampson told his team following a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Japan in the semifinal of the Women’s World Cup on Wednesday.
And no English player had more tears flowing than Laura Bassett.
In the 92nd minute, Bassett slid to try and clear a potential through pass out of the path of a Japanese forward and inadvertently knocked the ball into her own net.
It was, in the most plain and simple terms, the most agonizing way for England — or any team — to lose.
Moments like that one are used as cautionary tales for up-and-coming defenders or scary stories former players tell their baby budding defenders before bed.
It was a nightmarish play with a nightmarish ending.
While Sampson’s words gave some of his players a measure of comfort, he couldn’t console the one player who needed it the most. Bassett was being ushered off the field by a teammate when Sampson stopped to pat her on the head. He tried to say something, but couldn’t. The two parties walked in opposite directions, Bassett letting tears flow and Sampson trying to hold back his own tears.
“Laura Bassett’s name is on that score sheet, but she’s epitomized this England team this tournament,” Sampson said. “She’s been courageous, strong, kept this group together. She didn’t deserve that. But she’ll be looked upon as a hero, an absolute hero. That’s what people will remember, the Laura Bassett who headed and blocked and tackled and kept this team together.”
Shockingly, Sampson has been mostly right about his country’s reaction.
Bassett’s Twitter mentions following the game were littered with positive thoughts and well wishes.
It was a far cry from the way some fans treat American athletes when they have similarly unfortunate moments. Most of those tweets include death threats, not pats on the back.
The truth of the matter is, Bassett had a fantastic tournament. She helped anchor a defense that was the reason why England made it to the semifinals.
This isn’t the end for England. It still has an opportunity to finish third in a World Cup where many wrote off the Lionesses after playing a subpar match against France. Beat Germany and a third-place finish is something to brag about. Remember, this is an England team that had never won a game beyond the group stage.
It’s OK to cry now, but in the morning, it’s time for England to focus on finishing this dream tournament and not dwelling on the nightmare.
“I’m just so proud of them,” Sampson said. “We came to this tournament as huge underdogs and the weight of the nation on our back and the skeptics and critics to say that we weren’t good enough to get this far. And I’m just so proud of them. They’ve really inspired the nation back home and they deserve to go back home now as heroes. They played their hearts out, they gave their all and we should all be very proud of them.”