Four years ago, England's run to the UEFA Women's EURO 2009 came as a surprise. Their exit in the group stage in Sweden equally raised eyebrows.
Hope Powell's team came into the finals among the favourites, having reached the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup quarter-finals and, as Great Britain, the same stage of the 2012 Olympics. Before travelling to Sweden they enjoyed an 11-game unbeaten run, winning the Cyprus Women's Cup, beating Canada and holding world champions Japan, but a 4-1 loss to Sweden once they had travelled for the finals proved more of a form guide.
They fell behind early in their opener against Spain only for Eniola Aluko to equalise immediately, but having levelled again in the last minute fell to a third goal at the death. It was the other way round against Russia, Toni Duggan coming off the bench to make it 1-1 in added time, but England had not expected to only have one point going into Thursday's match with top seeds France.
Les Bleues rested players but a reshuffled England lineup, with Duggan partnering Ellen White in an unfamiliar 4-4-2, were never at the races in a 3-0 defeat. It came as a particular blow as the tournament had received unprecedented coverage back in England, with the BBC showing games live every night.
"We're disappointed," midfielder Anita Asante told UEFA.com. "But of all the three group games we played, this is probably the one we've performed the best in. We'll take a lot of lessons from this, and try to improve again for the future. All the players left everything they had out on the field, and really showed heart and passion to try and stay in it."
England were not helped by injuries in the build-up, though Powell refused to blame that for their performance. Defenders Rachel Unitt and Claire Rafferty were ruled out, but more pertinently, captain Casey Stoney, left-back Stephanie Houghton, winger Karen Carney and talisman Kelly Smith all had injuries in the build-up, while central defender Sophie Bradley missed the first two games.
Houghton did play all three matches but could not match the inspirational form shown at the Olympics, while Smith's latest leg injury meant she could not start a game, though she did set up Duggan's equaliser against Russia. Rachel Yankey, who against Japan became the first England player to win a 126th cap, was injured against Russia and unavailable to meet France to compound the blow.
Whatever the reason, though, this was not the steadily improving England team of the last decade. "We honestly don't feel we've played to our full potential," Asante said. "We know we have a lot more in us to display. It also could do with some luck in tournament conditions.
"We created some good opportunities in the Russia game and the Spain game, to get a result in those games, to perhaps not leave everything to this final game. But that's the sport and sometimes not everything goes in your favour."
As for Powell, whose reign stretches back 15 years and 162 games, she has indicated a willingness to stay on for 2015 Women's World Cup qualifying. And with new talents like Duggan and unused squad members Jordan Nobbs and Gemma Bonner coming through, there is certainly hope for Powell despite this disappointment.
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