We watched on tonight in hope as England's Women's football team played in the semi-finals of the FIFA Women's World Cup. Despite being defeated 2-1 they were victorious in other ways…

England's Lionesses Have Done Us Proud At The Women's World Cup
England supporters watch the England vs USA semi-final. Credit: PA

Last year, after Gareth Southgate's Three Lions bowed out of the World Cup in the semi-finals, the whole country was absolutely gutted, naturally.

However, it was a very different feeling of disappointment to that which we had become accustomed to. We were heartbroken because we came close, not because we felt let down. We weren't angry, we were proud.

A year on, and the Lionesses have picked up where the men left off, doing wonders for the women's game in the process.

England's Lionesses Have Done Us Proud At The Women's World Cup
The Lionesses have done us proud. Credit: PA

Starting on the pitch first and foremost, the team have played with togetherness and passion. How much it means to the entire squad has been clearly evidenced with every goal and every win – and they've managed to rake in a lot of both.

This is in large part due to the sheer quality that England possess.

Captain Steph Houghton has led by example from the heart of defence, while Lyon's Lucy Bronze has been a marauding threat from right back.

Nikita Parris – who will be joining Bronze at Lyon next season – has been a near constant threat for the Lionesses, executing a sumptuous megs against Scotland that had the nation salivating.

And how could we overlook Ellen White, who has become England's all-time top goal scorer at Women's World Cups?

England's Lionesses Have Done Us Proud At The Women's World Cup
Ellen White has bagged five goals at the World Cup. Credit: PA

But beyond getting the all important results, England have also managed to do it with style and class.

Throughout the history of the beautiful game, teams have found success by stripping the game of the very beauty we love it for. And while the nation would love nothing more than for the years of hurt since 1966 to at last come to an end, nobody wants to see it done through Suarez-esque diving, shouting and biting tactics.

The Lionesses' poise was perhaps most stiffly tested in their round of 16 match against Cameroon. A series of VAR calls incensed many of the opposition, who protested and refused to play for almost three minutes, as the atmosphere soured further and further.

England's Lionesses Have Done Us Proud At The Women's World Cup
England kept their cool in the round of 16 in testing conditions. Credit: PA

But the team managed to keep their cool in testing conditions, withstanding a couple of horrible tackles along the way, to secure victory.

For this attitude and togetherness the side have shown, manager Phil Neville must take some credit. He has managed to create an environment at an international tournament in which players feel able to express and enjoy themselves both on and off the pitch.

Sure, the waistcoat feels a little passé this time around, but watching England play has brought us a familiar sense of joy and pride, and P Nev should be commended for this.

England's Lionesses Have Done Us Proud At The Women's World Cup
The waistcoat may be sooo summer of 2018, but we'll be happy to watch an England side play the same way every summer. Credit: PA

The impact this team has had cannot be underestimated. A record-breaking peak of 7.2 million people tuned into watch England's semi-final victory against Norway, the highest UK TV audience for a women's game. The record for TV reach has also been smashed this tournament, with the 22.2 million who have tuned in so far almost doubling the 12.4 million mark set in 2015 during the World Cup in Canada.

For context, a peak audience of 26.5 million people watched England's World Cup semi-final exit to Croatia last summer, which shows the huge gulf in appetite that remains.

However, the growth of the women's game this summer is a huge step.

The importance of getting more women's football on the TV was evidenced when I was watching the quarter final. My girlfriend had never seen a women's match before and said it seemed 'weird' seeing women play football on the TV.

By taking big strides in promoting and normalising the women's game this summer, the Lionesses will no doubt have helped to inspire the next generation of female footballers to pursue their passion just like any boy might – and that quite frankly is more important than any silverware will ever be.

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