What could be more English than drinking a cup of tea? Well, losing in the semi-finals of the major international tournaments, perhaps. Maybe missing a crucial penalty. Or, when it counts, falling short and agonisingly so.
For the fifth time in the last four years across the men’s and women’s games, the last four is as far as England go. The United States progress to Sunday’s final, with every chance of winning their fourth Women’s World Cup, thanks to Alex Morgan’s first-half header.
Morgan celebrated by pretending to sip a cup of tea, which will likely fuel further debate on the supposed ‘arrogance’ of this American team, though they had every right to feel superior tonight. They were simply better than England.
For the third consecutive time at this Women’s World Cup, after Nikita Parris’ failures against Argentina and Norway, the spot-kick was missed. Houghton’s was the worst of the three. Low, tame and easily held.
There were questions why Ellen White, scorer of England’s only goal on the night, did not take it. She had shown plenty of composure when cancelling out Christen Press’ opener and when finishing a goal overturned by VAR in the second half.
It ends, then, in a familiar fashion. England were depleted, losing Mille Bright to a late red card, and defeated, putting up a respectable challenge against the reigning world champions but still falling short of the exemplary standard required to reach a World Cup final.
It was a dramatic night, the type when even the team sheets cause a stir. A hamstring injury prevented England’s first-choice goalkeeper Karen Bardsley from taking part, with Carly Telford in her place, but the absence of Megan Rapinoe was an even greater surprise.
Was this a tactical change or a decision Ellis was forced to make? The fact that Rapinoe did not take part in the pre-match warm-up, instead watching her team-mates from the sidelines, suggested an injury.
Either way, Press would start ahead of her on the left wing and make an early impact. The US ran the opening stages, largely through the excellent Rose Lavelle, and her dummy was the highlight of an exquisite opening goal.
Lucy Bronze appeared to either misjudge the cross which followed Lavelle’s dummy. That, or she missed the presence of Press entirely. Rapinoe’s replacement hanging off her shoulder and left with a free header. From an acute angle, she found the top left-hand corner.
The goal suggested there was an annihilation was to come. Neville’s untested 4-4-2 was being over-ran, as a midfield that struggled for control throughout tournament suddenly found itself with one fewer body. This made the equaliser all the more unlikely.
It was England’s first shot but also a brilliant, instinctive finish. White watched Beth Mead’s perfectly-pitched cross arc towards her, then opened her foot to divert the ball in off the upright. Neville strayed five yards or so onto the pitch in celebration.
That, in retrospect, was the time to make a change. Once Neville had settled back down on his bench, it would have been sensible for him to accept this reprieve, shore up the midfield and start from scratch.
Instead, England persisted with their experimental formation and paid the price. The US quickly reasserted their authority and Morgan soon restored the lead, getting on the wrong side of Demi Stokes, meeting Lindsay Horan’s cross and heading past a hesitant Telford.
Neville eventually changed his system to a more tried and tested 4-2-3-1, with Fran Kirby introduced as a No 10, but a mercurial talent who has struggled to catch light at this World Cup failed to turn the game around.
England briefly thought they were level again when White slipped through and delivered another cool finish. She attempted to check her run but still looked the length of a boot offside. The assistant’s flag stayed down but video technology enforced the correct decision.
The call for the penalty against Becky Sauerbrunn was far more marginal. Referee Edina Alves Batista seemed to need convincing while she was watching on the VAR monitor, but regardless, she ruled in England’s favour. Houghton could not take advantage.