Phil Neville stepped in front of the TV cameras following England's World Cup semi-final defeat to the USA, and praised his team.
Reflecting on the tournament as a whole, he declared, "I'm happy."
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On the face of it, it was a puzzling change of mind from a man who had said a few days before that losing in a semi-final - for the third consecutive major tournament - would be a failure.

Steph Houghton of England misses a penalty during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Semi Final match between England and USA at Stade de Lyon on July 02, 2019 in Lyon, France.

Image credit: Getty Images

But his satisfaction was in some ways warranted. His players had given everything they could. The devastation visible on the pitch afterwards - both physical exhaustion and emotional distress - was evidence of that. He could not have possibly asked anything more of them.
And they had been beaten by a better opponent, the world champions, an impressively slick team with incredible strength in depth.
There were no refereeing decisions to blame; twice VAR was employed, and twice it was absolutely correct - to rule out Ellen White's equaliser for offside, and then to award her a penalty. (Neville had a little gripe about Millie Bright's late sending-off for two bookable offences, but when he sees the video replays he might change his mind.)

Dejected Lucy Bronze (L) with Keira Walsh of England after the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Semi Final match between England and USA at Stade de Lyon on July 02, 2019 in Lyon, France

Image credit: Getty Images

In another way, it's time to stop being happy with glorious defeat, with falling just short. If England are truly to become one of the greatest forces in women's football, they need to have consistently high expectations - like the Americans do, like the Germans do (their sports newspapers following their quarter-final exit were absolutely brutal on their side).
Talking about how inspiring the women are, what great role models they are for little girls, might be true, but that cannot be enough; and it's boring now. It's been said so many times in recent years. Neville was right in the first place. His England side should not be simply happy knowing that some other sides will always be better. They need to go into tournaments thinking they can win whoever they have to face - not thinking they can win if someone else flukes a win over the best side.
Decades ago, women in England battled for the right to play, limited by a ban imposed by men frightened of the popularity of their game; the generation before this one fought for the chance to play professionally, given to them in 2011 when the Women's Super League launched.
This England team of 2019 have reaped those rewards, securing plenty of press on the front and back pages of national newspapers along with commercial endorsements and sponsorships.

USA beat England in the Women's World Cup semi-final

Image credit: Getty Images

A word of caution, though. To watch England this summer, then ignore them for four years and expect them to succeed next time round, is to be part of the problem. If you enjoyed cheering them on during the World Cup, back the Lionesses when they are playing domestically, continue the demand for media coverage and televised matches, show companies, clubs and governing bodies that there is actually real momentum behind this sport. Let them know that in the Euros, here in England in two years' time, those stands will be packed with keen, knowledgeable fans - not folks along for a day trip or to pat the women on the head for trying so hard.
After this summer, the spotlight is there. The investment in the talent pipeline is there. The best young players slot into the international set-up from a very early age, ready to step up when needed, and the signs are positive - youngsters Keira Walsh, Beth Mead and Georgia Stanway all shone for England this summer, and they will spearhead fistfuls of campaigns together in the future.
Battles have been won - and ones on the field have been lost. Now there needs to be a major final in the Lionesses' very near future to prove it has all been worthwhile.
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