Tears flow as England endure last-minute own goal heartbreak
Many doubted Mark Sampson's credentials and experience when he was made England women's manager 18 months ago.
Few do now. Sampson capped a generally impressive tournament debut tactically by finding the right words to deal with England's shattering World Cup semi-final defeat in Edmonton.
Interviewed immediately after Laura Bassett's injury-time own goal had sent England out of the competition in the cruellest way imaginable, the usually talkative Welshman was briefly speechless.
Then he found his voice, praising and reassuring Bassett, paying tribute to his players, and their old and new fans.
"It is heartbreaking," said Sampson, adding: "I told the girls it is OK to cry. I am so proud of them. They deserve to go home as heroes.
"I can't find a word to emphasise how together this team has been. They are a special group to work with and have shown what type of people they are and what type of team they are. I can't be prouder."
Bassett's horror moment came as extra-time loomed in a match that England had increasingly controlled.
Though Jodie Taylor came close to scoring in the opening minute, the game was tight and uneventful until Saori Ariyoshi was released behind Claire Rafferty.
The Chelsea defender pushed Ariyoshi in the back and, although the offence was outside the box, the referee awarded a penalty.
Aya Miyama tucked it away, but England levelled within four minutes through another controversial penalty as Steph Houghton tumbled theatrically in the box. Fara Williams, who opted against taking a kick in the shoot-out defeat to France in the 2011 World Cup quarter-final, finished with aplomb.
In the second period the introduction of Ellen White gave England extra impetus. Toni Duggan hit the bar with a volley, White drew a flying save from Ayumi Kaihori, and Jill Scott sent a close-range header wide.
Japan looked to be hanging on for extra-time, but then a rare break led to a cross from Nahomi Kawasumi that, with Yuki Ogimi lurking, Bassett had to cut out.
The ball flew off her outstretched boot, over Karen Bardsley, and in off the crossbar. It was given on the evidence of goalline technology.
Japan - whose only shot on target was the penalty - now play the USA in a repeat of the 2011 final, won by Japan on penalties. (© Independent News Service).