England's Lionesses were met not just by their friends and family on their return to Heathrow earlier today, but also by their growing legion of fans. After a highly successful Women's World Cup campaign in Canada, they could justifiably hold their heads high after defeating Germany to clinch third place. The future of the women's game looks bright at present but they will be keenly aware of the need to keep the interest high over the coming years to maintain the momentum.

Growing belief

Mark Sampson's squad grew in belief as the tournament progressed.

Following a disappointing reversal in their opening match against France, they turned their fortune around with successive 2-1 victories before their luck ran out in the last-four. Yet, the strength within the camp was evident again as they bounced back to beat the once all-conquering Germans 1-0 in the third-place play-off game. Fara Williams' extra-time penalty was enough to ensure a first success over their opponents in 31 years.

Maintain interest

The hope will be that the current interest can be harnessed to develop the game further in this country, avoiding the potential dip between major tournaments. Team member Jill Scott echoed those sentiments, knowing that the Americans and Germans start from a far healthier position in the women's game: "Hopefully we can keep going now and get the crowds out."

WSL thriving

With a thriving Women's Super League in the country already being nurtured, the standard of the English players is expected to rise as the competition between the teams develops.

Foreign stars may be attracted into the league to enhance the skill levels even higher in future, although the lessons within the men's game would be wise to be considered to avoid too many imports pushing English players out.

Professional era

For many years women's Football was a part-time pastime in England, but that is now mainly a thing of the past as the professional era has taken over and allowed many women to seriously consider football as a career.

Crowds are by no means comparable to the men's top leagues at present, but the hope is that the recent global success will inspire many young girls to come into the game from now on and also to follow their local teams.

Heartbreak in semi-final

Despite most of the matches being played in the early hours on BST, millions of fans back home tuned in to watch England's painful defeat in the semi-final against Japan.

But for that freak own goal by Laura Bassett in the final minutes, the Lionesses could even have been contemplating taking on the mighty Americans in the final itself.

America were worthy champions

As it was, Japan's reign as World Cup champions came to an end in quite staggering fashion as they were demolished 5-2 by USA. Carli Lloyd inspired the Stars and Stripes with a first-half hat-trick, including an audacious long range shot from near the half-way line that caught the Japanese goalkeeper off her line.