MANCHESTER, England – England's national teams keep finding ways to make agonizing exits from major soccer tournaments.
Penalty-shootout defeats? There have been six of those by England's men alone since the World Cup semifinals in 1990. Refereeing injustices? England midfielder Frank Lampard's shot that crossed the line but wasn't awarded as a goal in the 2010 World Cup quarterfinal exit to Germany still rankles, and led to the introduction of goal-line technology.
Now it's the turn of England women's class of 2015 to feel the pain.
The nation woke Thursday to news that Laura Bassett had scored an own goal in second-half stoppage time, consigning England to a 2-1 loss to Japan in the women's World Cup semifinals.
Bassett sobbed after the final whistle in Edmonton, Canada — and the hurt was shared across England.
"What a dreadful way to lose! Poor, poor Laura Bassett," tweeted former England striker Gary Lineker, a member of the 1990 team that lost to Germany on penalties. "Despite the gut-wrenching nature of the defeat, England's women were terrific and should hold their heads high."
A peak audience of 2.4 million in Britain watched the biggest game in the history of England's women, broadcaster BBC said Thursday, signalling the interest the team has generated during the tournament.
Their run to the semifinals — the furthest England has ever reached at a women's World Cup — has helped break down barriers, making back- and front-page headlines in English newspapers and getting plenty of exposure on TV and radio stations.
Never before has England been so into women's football.
"Beautiful to see the women's game get the exposure it fully deserves here in the UK," former England and Manchester United captain Rio Ferdinand said. "Inspirational squad."
Despite the painful nature of the loss, England's players were widely praised for the way they conducted themselves and are now being viewed as role models.
"Watching the post match interviews by the England players & coach. Pure class," American soccer great Mia Hamm said on Twitter. "You represent yourselves and your country brilliantly."
England will take on Germany in a third-place playoff on Saturday before returning home to what likely will be a great reception. Many players are now household names in England.
"Our aim was 1) gold medal 2) inspire a nation!! We didn't get our first task but I'm sure we have got our second," England winger Karen Carney said.
Carney might just be right. On Thursday, around 300 school children aged 8-14 attended a girls' soccer festival in Welwyn Garden City, north of London — the first of five Football Association-run initiatives across the country this summer. They learnt skills and other abilities such as how to referee, and one of the most important messages being conveyed was that it should be as normal for girls to play soccer as it is for boys.
"England doing so well, and the coverage they have got, is more than we can probably have ever imagined," Kelly Simmons, the FA's director of women's football, told The Associated Press. "In terms of changing attitudes around the fact that, why shouldn't it be a game for girls and boys, like it is in Canada and the USA where participation numbers between girls and boys are pretty similar.
"It doesn't have the kind of gender stereotyping that we have in our country."