LONDON • Something strange happened as England players trudged off the Wembley pitch on Saturday after their worrying Women's World Cup hangover continued with a late kick in the teeth.
The crowd rose up to cheer. Pretty much all 77,768 of them - the biggest home attendance for the national team.
A 2-1 defeat, albeit in a friendly to Germany, was not what the supporters - or England's manager, Phil Neville - had come for.
But this match, the Lionesses' first at Wembley since 2014, was as much about winning hearts and minds. It was clear that the dizzying momentum of women's football is showing no sign of abating following a successful Women's World Cup in France earlier this year.
This attendance galloped past the previous home record for an England team, the 45,619 who saw them lose to Germany in 2014.
It also exceeded the 70,584 who watched Great Britain beat Brazil at Wembley during the London 2012 Olympics, although it fell short of the best-ever crowd for a women's match in the United Kingdom - when 80,000 watched the United States beat Japan for the gold medal at the same Games.
This was another sign that the women's game is on the right track, and an indication that some of the 11.8 million people who viewed England's World Cup semi-final defeat by the US have become converts.
As Neville put it afterwards: "I think if we had a game in three months' time at Wembley, we would have the same crowd after what they saw from both teams.
"It was a fantastic spectacle, an amazing occasion."
Organisers had billed the game as a sell-out with 86,000 tickets off-loaded, but a dreary and wet day in London may well have put off the less hardy and devoted supporters.
The match was also marred slightly when Klara Buhl struck the winner for Germany with less than a minute left.
Alexandra Popp had given the visitors the lead inside nine minutes, and Neville's side, after seeing Nikita Parris missed a penalty, got back on level terms when Ellen White tucked away the ball before half-time.
"It's a dream come true to play at Wembley for your country and score," said Manchester City striker White.
"It's unbelievable - the support, the noise, the atmosphere - we are really sorry we couldn't get the result."
Buhl's late strike means England have lost five of their last seven matches, dating back to their heartbreaking World Cup semi-final defeat.
"It was a killer blow late on," said Neville.
"The results are not good enough - there's no hiding away but there's a long-term plan that we have. We have to take the criticisms that come our way and stick together.
"I have been in football long enough and I know I need to take responsibilities, I need to make sure I improve as a manager and the players improve too."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE