In the end, a familiar feeling.
Sinking to the turf, overcome with emotion. Not for the first time England were knocked out of the World Cup in the semi-finals.
Phil Neville said in the build-up anything other than progression to the final would amount to failure and judged in the harshest terms he was right: the Lionesses failed to beat the world’s No1 side, the defending champions and favourites. When the moment came, they were not good enough to overcome the ultimate test.
Pumped up with adrenaline they flew out of the blocks, but their eagerness contrasted sharply with their seasoned, superior opponents. England showed signs of nerves, and just like in their previous World Cup matches, they conceded possession in dangerous areas and gave away chances they shouldn’t have.
The United States were unlikely to be as forgiving as Cameroon or Norway and England’s charmed run of four successive clean sheets was brought to an abrupt halt in Lyon, with Christen Press and Alex Morgan showing no mercy with well-placed first-half headers.
Ellen White, just like she has been all tournament, was reliable in the penalty area, deftly finishing Beth Mead’s low cross, but her sixth goal of the competition ended up a footnote to a relentless, engrossing and fraught clash.
The video assistant referee is not the story, but as in many matches in France, it reared its ugly head to ponder numerous replays and try to define the result.
First White’s cool side-footed finish from Jill Scott’s intelligent flick around the USA defence to briefly level the scores at 2-2 was correctly – and relatively swiftly – ruled out for offside.
Next the moment on which the match could have turned. Fran Kirby and Demi Stokes combined perfectly to put a legitimate equaliser on a plate for White, but to everyone’s surprise she produced a swing and a miss inside the six-yard box.
Replays showed the reason: a feint but significant touch by defender Becky Sauerbrunn on White’s shooting foot. After several minutes, and an even greater number of replays, referee Edina Alves Batista pointed to the spot.
The clock read 83 minutes and, after Nikita Parris had failed to convert England’s previous two spot-kicks, it was time for captain Steph Houghton to step up and take responsibility.
What came next was grimly predictable: weight of the world on shoulders, nervy glance at the left corner, scuffed attempt, comfortable stop for Alyssa Naeher. It was deja vu: another missed penalty resulting in another semi-final exit, following their male counterparts’ in Russia last summer and their own example in 2015.
For all the VAR drama and ifs and buts it was the contrasting demeanours of the sides which made the difference: both busting a gut to win, but one side doing so in frenetic, not joined-up fashion and the other using their experience to carry out a controlled and professional game plan.
“My players gave me everything,” summed up Neville. “We said we wanted to leave our hearts and souls on the pitch and we did. We gave everything. We just ran out of steam.”
Hearts and souls versus minds and bodies leaves only one winner. The USA roll on into Sunday’s final; England to Saturday’s third-place play-off.