With the United States having retained the World Cup, we reflect on the highs and lows from what has been a memorable and unforgettable four weeks in France.

Highs

Inspiring a nation

England may have returned home without the prize they so desperately wanted.

But in the course of their journey over the past month, Phil Neville’s Lionesses secured a reward arguably even more profound and important.

They managed to capture the hearts and imaginations of a whole nation – a fact borne out by the way England's semi-final clash with the United States garnered the biggest TV audience of the year.

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And the way the Lionesses have gone about their business will ensure the class of 2019 will help inspire a new generation of talented young females.

Marta’s stirring words

Brazilian legend Marta penned another chapter in her glorious career when scoring against Italy to become the leading scorer in World Cup history.

And, after the South Americans had exited the tournament at the last 16 stage at the hands of hosts France, Marta spoke movingly in a post-match interview with a message that seems certain to galvanise young female players throughout her homeland and beyond.

“Women’s football depends on you to survive,” Marta declared. “There’s not going to be a Formiga forever, there’s not going to be a Marta forever.”

She added: “Cry at the beginning so you can smile at the end.”

The hosts

France proved absolutely inspiring hosts.

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The weather, in the main, was glorious over the past four weeks and the stadia proved inspiring stages for the world’s finest female footballers who served up no end of compelling, nerve-shredding drama.

And supporters – both from France itself as well as thousands from all around the world – came together to provide a colourful, flamboyant and passionate backdrop to help cement a World Cup that, by common consent, was the finest yet.

Lows

VAR

The advent of the Video Assistant Referee has split opinion down the middle since its inception but there’s no doubt that it proved a hugely controversial feature at France 2019 - especially in the early stages of the tournament.

Two decisions in particular to order penalty re-takes after VAR asserted that goalkeepers had moved before the initial kick had been taken proved especially controversial.

Nigeria were incensed that their group stage encounter against France was decided by a re-taken penalty kick – itself awarded by VAR - by Wendie Renard after keeper Chiamaka Nnadozie was ruled to have moved off her line early when Renard’s initial effort struck the post.

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VAR then conspired to provide a heart-breaking postscript to Scotland’s campaign.

With Scotland 3-2 up and on course for the last 16, referee Ri Hyang Ok awarded a penalty to Argentina following a VAR review after Sophie Howard had felled Aldana Cometti.

Following a lengthy delay, keeper Lee Alexander made a fine save to her right to deny Florencia Bonsegundo, but another VAR review adjudged Alexander to have strayed off her line before the spot-kick was taken.

Alexander was booked, and Bonsegundo drilled the retaken penalty down the middle of the goal to send Scotland out. It was a cruel and controversial finale.

England’s semi-final heartbreak

The curse of the poisoned pens struck the national side yet again at the semi-final stage of a major tournament.

With the Lionesses giving as good as they got against the reigning world champions United States and pressing for an equaliser, Phil Neville’s side were awarded an 81st minute penalty.

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Skipper Steph Houghton showed courage in abundance by stepping up to take the kick with the weight of the world, quite literally, on her shoulders.

Agonisingly, her effort was saved by United States’ keeper Alyssa Naeher and England were unable to force a leveller despite a frantic finale.

It was cruel in the extreme – especially for our captain who was absolutely magnificent throughout the tournament.

Full time

The last month seems to have passed by in an instant and there will be a void now that the action is over.

Record viewing figures proved how the tournament captured the public’s imagination and the BBC did a superb job in broadcasting the World Cup’s rich tapestry of colour, glory and heartbreak.

It's fair to say we will all miss France 2019