EDMONTON — Rarely has a third-place finish ever felt so good.
On the heels of losing to Japan on Laura Bassett's own goal in the 92nd minute in their semifinal, fortune turned around for the Lionesses on Saturday as Fara Williams scored on a penalty kick in the 108th minute as England upset Germany 1-0 in the third-place match at the FIFA Women's World Cup.
Finishing in third place is sixth-ranked England's best-ever showing at a World Cup, coming in its fourth appearance.
"It feels a lot better right now than it did the other day, that's for sure," said England head coach Mark Sampson. "It's an incredible result for our team. Not only going up against a world-class German team, but to bounce back from what was a real tough blow for us in that semifinal. The performance today speaks volumes about the group that we have.
"To achieve a third-place finish in this tournament and go home as the top European nation, to finally beat Germany, it's a really big statement for this team and something they will be remembered forever for."
It is the first time England has ever defeated Germany, losing 3-0 to the last time they met in November.
"I'm just so immensely proud to be a part of this incredible team," said England goalie and player of the match Karen Bardsley. "This has been a fantastic journey."
After scoring the own goal to lose their semifinal game to Japan, England almost allowed another one in the eighth minute against Germany. A ball was sent towards the goal by Germany's Bianca Schmidt and was then headed directly towards the goal by England midfielder Jo Potter before captain Steph Houghton made a diving play to kick the ball out of mid-air to safety just before it could cross the goal line.
England came back the other way in the 13th minute and Houghton came close on a tricky little shot that was deftly tracked by German goalie Nadine Angerer.
Germany had a couple of great chances early in the second half, including a shot from in tight by Sara Daebritz that Bardsley had to be sharp on to save in the 53rd minute.
England had sustained pressure in the 76th minute on a play that saw Angerer way out of her net, but couldn't get any shots through a sea of defending legs, as the match eventually went to extra time.
It looked like the game might go through extra time as well, before Germany's Tabea Kemme was called for holding on to England's Liane Sanderson. The Lionesses were awarded a penalty kick in the 108th minute, with Williams coming through to give her team the win.
Germany was given a free kick just outside the box with a minute to play, but Bardsley was able to make the save on a direct shot from Anja Mittag.
Fourth place was little consolation for the German side, the top-ranked team in the tournament who had their gold medal dreams ended in a 2-0 semifinal loss to the United States.
"We brought everything to the table and fought and worked very well," said German head coach Silvia Neid. "We had excellent chances, but if you don't score any goals then you can't win. The penalty shot was perfectly justified. We had a great chance after that and couldn't finish it. It's sad, but that's how it is."
Germany previously exited earlier than expected and was out of the medal hunt on home soil when they hosted the World Cup in 2011, after winning the event in 2007.
The Women's World Cup concludes on Sunday in Vancouver with the U.S. and Japan facing off for the championship.
Shane Jones, The Canadian Press