COMMENT by Jim White for Telegraph UK
We had been promised all fortnight that netball was coming home. And, after a heartbreaker of a semifinal, that is where it is heading, back to the place it has long resided: bang in the middle of the Tasman Sea.
For the sixth Netball World Cup in a row the final will be between Australia and New Zealand. As they have at every World Cup since 1991, England will be left scrabbling for the most pointless of consolation prizes in the bronze-medal match.
A week on, revenge of a sort was extracted by New Zealand's netball players for their cricketers bowel-twisting loss at Lord's last Monday. And they did not need a super over to do it. This was won in normal time, through the application of rock-solid defence, adroit mid-court scheming and, up front, the most lynx-eyed of finishing.
Not since Jonah Lomu trampled over Rory Underwood in 1995 can a New Zealander have inflicted as much damage on English semifinal hopes as Maria Folau did here. While her husband Israel gets hot under the collar about same-sex marriage, she remains ice-cold in front of the net. Her shooting here was the difference.
But how we were left with a sense of what might have been. Rarely can there have been an atmosphere as charged, a noise as enthusiastic, a vocal backing as determined as that which enveloped the M&S Bank Arena for this semifinal. Now we can only imagine what that would have been like soundtracking a final. Instead, the moment has gone, the passion has been muted. And the Arena can go back to its normal business.
As they had every step of the way, England came out to play their semi, accompanied by their laddish walk-on music Vindaloo, to a magnificent broil of noise. Ten thousand were in here, almost all of them supporting the home side. This was a party in the stands. There were fancy-dressed fans turned out as England coach Tracey Neville, there were dozens in rose headdresses, there were thousands in red England shirts. And all of them were keen to watch history unfold.
This was a rarity among matchday crowds in that it was overwhelmingly female; it is an unusual event in the sporting calendar where the best place to escape the rush is the gents toilets. Perhaps as a result of its female predominance, there was little of the rancour that can envelope sporting gatherings.
And what was so telling about the gathering was that their enthusiasm was barely dented by events as they unfolded. The semifinal began not as anyone of English persuasion could have hoped, in a flurry of mistakes by the ladies in red. England's first attack was intercepted. Then their second. Then their third. The home team were 5-0 down before the crowd had caught their breath. Then England missed their first shot. Then their second. But in no way was the crowd to be deflated. When Jo Harten finally got a score on the board, the cheer threatened the very building. Each interception thereafter for the Roses was greeted with a shriek. When England, fighting back with some resolve, finally took a lead just before half-time the Zeppalike tribute act would be hard pushed to make a noise like that which filled the Arena.
England could not, however, make their moment of supremacy count. New Zealand's experience, physicality and guile erased the lead and secured one of their own. Like the crowd, however, Neville's players never gave up. In the last quarter, as they tried to close the gap, everyone there was on their feet, urging their favourites on to a repeat of the Commonwealth Games last-gap victory. But none was forthcoming.
When the klaxon sounded and the Kiwi side soaked up the warm applause pouring from the stands, the truth hit home. The opportunity - perhaps the best in a generation – for proper advancement had been lost. Instead of glory, for the hosts this World Cup will conclude in the cold-shower anticlimax of a third-place play-off. After the recent experience of our male and female footballers, it is rapidly becoming the default position of English sport.