The Lionesses suffered heartbreak in the semi-finals as Laura Bassett’s stoppage-time own-goal saw them beaten 2-1 by Japan in cruel fashion.
However, Fara Williams’ penalty at the start of the second half of extra-time earned England the bronze medal and left coach Sampson full of pride.
“The players have been absolutely awesome, absolutely awesome,” Sampson told Sky Sports News HQ. “I’ve spoken a lot about my sense of pride in this team but I’ll say it again: I can’t be more proud of the players or the staff, the effort that they’ve put in this tournament has been incredible.
“This team stepped up today, they really stepped up and they bounced back like the champions that they are and we saw a performance full of this team epitomises; resilience, character, hard work, never say die and what squad effort.
“It’s been an honour and privilege to work with these players and staff over the course of this tournament. They’ve shown the world what we wanted to show; that with some strong values and some excellent players you can achieve special things.
“For this team to beat Germany, finish third, get to a semi-final, beat the host nation, to be the first women’s team to win a knockout match all on the back of losing our first game, it just shows you what a special group this is.”
Williams revealed she wasn’t even nervous after slotting home her third penalty of the tournament to secure England’s first win over Germany in 21 attempts.
“To be honest I wasn’t,” said Williams. “It’s one of those things, you’re in extra-time, if we score we could potentially win or it could go to penalties.
“I was just focused on what I was going to do with the penalty, I’ve took two before so probably the first penalty of the tournament for me was probably more nerve wrecking than that one. But once I’d got two out of the way, I knew what I was going to do with this one.
“I think our players showed what a tight group of players we are; when their player stood on the ball and tried to play mind games; the fact that four of my team-mates went over, got her off of it and let them do their argy-bargy while I focused on what I was going to do.
“The emotion this squad has gone through in the last couple of days with the real disappointment of that freakish goal that we conceded against Japan to us winning and finally going home with a medal from a World Cup, the emotions are up and down but we’re on cloud nine at the minute.”
Victory was a perfect tonic for Bassett, whose “horrendous” unfortunate own goal in injury time denied England a place in the final.
“How could I not have this smile back when all my team-mates put it a shift like that today,” Bassett said.
“I’m so happy for our England staff, the amount of endless hours they put in, the commitment and my team-mates, we have put in absolutely everything on this journey and to finally to walk away with this around my neck.
“Obviously with our set-back on Wednesday this was our clear objective, we still had a little history to make, we hadn’t beaten Germany in a long, long, long time so we wanted to walk away with third and our heads held high so that was our clear objective and it’s great that we’ve achieved it.”
“This lady next to me [Bassett] really stepped up,” added Sampson. “She epitomises what this team is about, a solid, honest character. “