Last week was the peak of Alessia Russo’s football career – scoring a viral goal against Sweden before coming on as a substitute as England beat Germany to be crowned European champions for the first time.
But as the dust settles after the Lionesses’ historic 2-1 win at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, Russo insists it’s ‘just the start’ for her side and she hopes for a bright future for football female in England.
“The final was just an amazing day – the stadium, the event, having all these fans there was just surreal,” the Manchester United striker told CNN Sport.
The Euro 2022 final was played in front of 87,192 people – a record crowd for a European Championship final, men’s or women’s, while 17.4million people across the UK watched the game on television, according to the BBC.
“It’s just the beginning for us I think. We want to fill stadiums every week, of course we do, but we have to be realistic and we know it’s a process to get there,” adds Russo .
“We just want to see more people fall in love with the game and accept that women’s football is amazing. The United States set the bar high, but the teams are catching up now and that’s really exciting.
While Russo and England can now watch what’s in store for the team – qualifying for next year’s World Cup and a meeting with the top USWNT – they can also reflect on a rollercoaster European campaign.
The home advantage meant England were among the favorites to win Euro 2022 long before a ball was kicked, and expectations only rose after a resounding 8-0 victory over Norway in group stage.
“I think the media put pressure on us as soon as they found out it was a home tournament,” Russo said, “but there was never any internal pressure.
“We were really good at keeping the bubble very closed and very focused on the games… From day one we wanted to win the tournament, but at the same time we realized we had to exclude everyone outside.
“We didn’t even know how crazy it was going to be, and it turned out to be 10 times crazier than we all thought… We were so focused on training and enjoying each other’s company, to turn off and then start again.”
What has also helped, says Russo, is the influence of coach Sarina Wiegman, who has yet to lose a match with England, nor at the Women’s Euros having also led the Netherlands to victory in 2017.
“I think we all like to play under her,” Russo says. “She has like a real calm about her. She is very relaxed and off the field and even on the sidelines. She doesn’t really overheat or overheat in the moment – she’s very weighted.
Russo, 23, has been used extensively as a substitute throughout her England career and was taken off the bench in all six of the Lionesses’ Euro 2022 games.
Her fourth and final goal of the tournament was the most memorable – a sublime, instinctive back-heel into the legs of Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl that highlighted England’s 4-0 victory in the semi-final.
“I don’t think I’ll score a goal like that again,” Russo said. “I think it was just a one-time wonder, but I’ll take it.”
The goal quickly garnered applause throughout women’s football and beyond, including catching the attention of The great Abby Wambach of the United States and Chelsea and Australia star Sam Kerr.
“I saw my old club that I grew up with – they were all training in training which was good,” Russo adds.
“And if that’s a goal or whatever, it’s nice to see women’s football leaving a mark on the world and on young boys and girls. If that inspires a person to go out and play football , I’ll take it.
Look at the goal back – and the wild celebrations that followed – and it’s hard not to be inspired by Russo and the Lionesses.
The future of women’s football in England looks bright, but before Russo can begin to consider what he might have in store for her, she has more immediate priorities.
“There’s definitely a holiday coming up,” she says. “It’s been an amazing few months, but I’m very exhausted and need a little break.”