LYON • There was an upbeat tone to England manager Phil Neville after their Women's World Cup 2-1 semi-final loss to the United States but, when the emotion has faded, he will surely scrutinise how his side's dream ended.
England "conquered hearts and minds", The Guardian newspaper said, and while there is no doubt they have provided inspiration for young girls taking up the game, they ended up exiting at the same stage as in the last two editions.
"The aim is for us to become the best, like America. We've still got a bit to go, but I won't stop until we get there," said Neville after the spirited defeat by a superior team, who were even without their injured key winger Megan Rapinoe.
"I've no regrets... We've shown we're getting close to the defending champions, we're knocking at the door. The way we played filled me with pride and joy. I wanted to see smiles, not tears.
"Now (we) have to produce a performance in Nice (third-place play-off against either the Netherlands or Sweden). I'm already looking forward to Saturday's game."
Despite his optimism, England's most evident area in need of an upgrade is ball retention. Former England player Alex Scott noted that the team struggled with keeping possession throughout the tournament.
"Sloppy is the right word," she said on the BBC. "If Phil has come in with this philosophy that we are going to play out from the back and play through the thirds, we do need to be better on the ball.
"At points we were architects of our own downfall, we were handing the ball to the US."
11 The US have won their last 11 matches at the Women's World Cup; the best winning streak in the tournament's history.
4 England have taken more penalties, four and missed more penalties, three, than any other side at this Women's World Cup.
England lacked a player capable of grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck in midfield and their potency down the right flank, so prominent in the quarter-final win over Norway, vanished in Neville's changed formation.
Nikita Parris, who combined to such great effect with attacking full-back Lucy Bronze against Norway, was moved to a more central role and looked lost in the first half.
The Rapinoe-Bronze battle had been billed as the match-up of the game changers. But it was a defensive error by Lyon player Bronze, who let a long cross sail over her head in the 10th minute to give away the opener to Christen Press, Rapinoe's replacement.
The waves of attacks that had set the tone for the game and had England struggling paid off early. Keira Walsh and Jill Scott were left chasing shadows as the Americans were given space in midfield.
It was not until the adjustments Neville made at half-time, with his team 2-1 down and clinging on after Alex Morgan had doubled the advantage, that England had the shape needed to pose a challenge.
The Lionesses did a good job of chasing the game, however, equalising in the 19th minute thanks to Ellen White's brilliant finishing.
She might have had another if the video assistant referee had not spotted that the forward's foot was a couple of centimetres ahead of the last defender.
Still, Steph Houghton could have taken this non-stop contest into extra time with a late penalty. She had volunteered to replace Parris, who had missed two here; a captain who took responsibility but had to accept a cruel defeat.
Moments like that are in the category of "ifs and maybes" but what was clear is that England are still some way short of the Americans' standard.
US coach Jill Ellis, however, said her team have had to endure the hardest route to a World Cup final ever, but added that her players' determination had set them apart.
It was the third consecutive match the US had won 2-1, using impressive game-management skills to see out the contests and frustrate their opponents.
The gritty performances have been a far cry from the opening matches, where they thrashed Thailand 13-0 and put three goals past Chile without reply.
"As a coach you rely on players having that mental capacity," Ellis said. "It's resolve and it's fantastic - games where you have to have that... it's the World Cup Finals, it's not Sunday soccer."
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS