Beth Mead said England are “devastated” while manager Sarina Wiegman said it “really hurts” after her side agonisingly missed out on a place in the Women’s Nations League finals on goal difference.
England’s game had finished when the Netherlands scored their decisive fourth goal in the 95th minute, ending the Lionesses’ Nations League campaign and also meaning Team GB will not be in the Paris 2024 Olympics football competition.
“We thought we’d got over the line but it wasn’t to be,” Mead told BBC Sport.
England needed to better the Netherlands’ result by three clear goals to reach the Nations League finals and keep Olympic hopes alive, as the nominated nation to qualify on behalf of Team GB.
In the end, both England and the Dutch finished on 12 points in Group A1, with the Netherlands advancing because of a superior goal difference of plus eight. England finished with plus seven.
“We’re devastated. We did everything we possibly could on the pitch,” said Mead.
“It’s a tough one. The girls have worked incredibly hard. We let ourselves down maybe earlier in the competition.”
Wiegman, who oversaw a 30-match unbeaten run when she first took charge of the Lionesses, said she was “proud” of the performance but “gutted” not to get over the line.
“We scored six goals, and we were so close. In the dying seconds the Netherlands scored a goal, you can’t control that,” she said.
‘I thought it was going to happen for us’
When Lucy Bronze’s header hit the back of the net in the 93rd minute at Hampden Park – England’s sixth goal – Wiegman said she thought her side had secured their progression to the finals and the noise from a pocket of fans inside the stadium echoed that feeling.
Alex Greenwood had opened the scoring before goals from Lauren James, Beth Mead and Fran Kirby put the finals in sight.
But the elation of Bronze’s sixth was quickly forgotten as the players gathered in a huddle at full-time and discovered the news that the Netherlands had scored a fourth to end Team GB’s Olympic dream.
“It was about two minutes I think but they took forever,” said Wiegman. “I did think actually that as they [Netherlands] had just scored the third goal, in extra time just as we scored, that wow, it’s going to happen for us. I really thought that.
“I actually don’t know what to say because I’m really proud of this performance but we’re not through and I’m very disappointed.”
‘Players are not robots’
Mistakes earlier in the campaign have ultimately proved costly for England with the 3-2 loss to Belgium in October giving them an uphill task for these December fixtures.
Another loss away to the Netherlands despite periods of dominance was also key and even just one more goal in their 3-2 win over the Dutch on Friday would have put qualification in England’s hands this week.
“This is part of football, it’s not easy to keep performing, we need a high level and sometimes it dropped,” said Wiegman.
“After the Belgium game we had a very good camp, because the result against Belgium was not related to how we trained as a team.”
But while the players will undoubtedly reflect on this campaign as a missed opportunity and feel disappointed to miss out on another chance to win a title, a hectic schedule in recent years means they may also be thankful for the rest.
“On the back of the World Cup going again, having injuries, being unlucky at moments and pushing ourselves,” said Wiegman.
“Hardly any rest and going again. We conceded in September, players were tired, some more injuries, but we were building and building.”
England won the Euros in 2022 before reaching a historic World Cup final this summer and fatigue and injuries have clearly been factors in what has ultimately been a difficult campaign.
“Of course it hurts because you want to be in major tournaments and we wanted to win the Nations League group but if you see the bigger picture, what we have done over the last say two and a half years,” said Wiegman.
England have also missed key players Mead, Kirby and Leah Williamson through serious injuries, with captain Millie Bright also missing the latter stages of the Nations League campaign through injury.
“You want to go to every major tournament so every player wants that,” said Wiegman.
“But in the bigger picture we have to look at the calendar and think that the players are not robots and they need some rest too, that’s very obvious.”