Fearless England hold the final piece of the jigsaw to complete a long road to glory | Women’s Euro 2022
Sarina Wiegman said her players had reached a point where they “fear no one anymore”, ahead of England’s Euros final clash with Germany.
“When you reach the final you are one of the best teams in the tournament,” the manager said. “I think we have a very good team. We fear no one.
“We had a lot of tests. We did quite well. The group stage was relatively easy – it looks easy but it’s never easy. The match against Spain was close and tight; Sweden seemed a bit easier, but we had tough times and times where we were dominant, and we are there now.
It took a long time for England to reach a major tournament final. The Lionesses reached the Euro final in 2009, losing 6-2 to Germany. It was the seventh of Germany’s eight European titles and England had some serious catching up to do. Thirteen years later, England enter the final against Germany with a realistic chance of ending their opponents’ 100% Euro final record.
The pace of change accelerated in 2017, when Football Association director of women’s football Sue Campbell and then chief executive Martin Glenn stood in the Bobby Moore Room at Wembley and unveiled an ambitious plan for the development of women’s football. Soccer. For the first time since the nearly 50-year ban on women’s football from all association-affiliated grounds, the FA have apologized for the way they have harmed women’s football.
Yes the ban was lifted in 1970 and yes the FA took over the management of women’s football from the independent Women’s FA in 1993 but the support had been limited, incremental.
The success of the British team at the 2012 Olympics and England’s surprise run to the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup helped those who asked for a few more crumbs at the table to get a small slice of the pie.
Five years ago, the FA went even deeper with ambitions to double attendance in women’s football, double match viewership, improve player journeys and take England to a final major tournament.
The plan was clear: the Lionesses would be competitive by Euro 2021 (which was postponed to this year due to Covid) and the 2023 World Cup. The elimination in the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup n wasn’t a surprise; the infrastructure was not deemed sufficiently developed in time for this tournament.
“That kind of sounds a bit jargon, but to build a high-performance system takes time,” Campbell said. “We have great players with huge passion, huge commitment, huge effort, but really building a world-class support system means you have to put all the things in place like psychology or fitness analysis. or sport and they need to be in place at the right level. It takes time to build these kinds of teams.
The strategy pays off and more. “We saw so much that we wanted to see and articulated in this strategy come to life,” Campbell said. A new plan has been drawn up and the FA is ramping up the game to pace.
It’s impossible to describe the potential impact of winning a Euro on home soil, but by reaching the final in the swaggering way the team did, win or lose, it changed the status of the game, itself as well as the attitudes towards women and their involvement. in sports more generally. England captain Leah Williamson underscored this on Saturday when she said the tournament had brought “not just a change for women’s football but for society in general”.
The Lionesses’ journey to this final was long.
In 2009, 17 players received the first central contracts, and five more play as full-time professionals in the United States. Central contracts were worth £16,000 each per year for four years.
On Sunday, the Lionesses are each in line for £55,000 bonuses if they win. Their faces pop out on billboards and advertisements across the country. In 2009, only the semi-final and final were broadcast; this time, the tournament received the full BBC treatment, with every game broadcast.
If England win on Sunday, it will not just be a triumph of players and coaching staff, it will be a triumph of investment and support.
In the sympathetic Wiegman, however, they have “the final piece of the puzzle,” Campbell said. “The coaches before Sarina did a good job developing the game, raising the visibility of the women’s game, but she is without a doubt one of the most outstanding coaches I have ever worked with and she certainly brought a level very different from collaboration, teamwork, tactical awareness, composure and clarity of purpose.
“She is definitely the last piece of the puzzle. When you build a high-performance system, it’s like putting a puzzle together. It doesn’t all happen all at once, it has to be done little by little. She’s the last piece for me and her presence brought it all together in a way we might not have understood until we had her.
Wiegman brought things together on and off the field. The audacity of Alessia Russo’s backheel goal against Sweden was symptomatic of an environment where the team plays for fun, for each other and without fear. It’s exhilarating to watch.
For Williamson, enjoying the moment will be as important as trying to block it and focus on the game. “There were times in my career where even when I won, I felt like I lost because I didn’t enjoy that moment,” she said. “The environment we’ve created has allowed us to enjoy it and soak it all up with the fans.
“I’ve always said, ‘Why shouldn’t we take advantage of this?’ We’ve worked so hard, but there’s that focus and composure that’s needed more before a final.