England are the winners of Euro 22, creating their own history after a performance of nerve and control against Germany at Wembley.
Looks like it’s come home, then. Much has been made of comparisons between the England women’s team and their men’s equivalent in recent weeks, of the opportunity for women to forge their own history and to overlook and set aside the various albatrosses around their own necks. that their male counterparts have managed to position themselves over the years.
England v Germany is special because England v Germany is special. There can be a rivalry without it being poisonous. At Wembley Stadium in front of a crowd of 87,000, the German national anthem was not booed, no need for such disrespect. This is truly one of the strangest aspects of this phenomenon. The strain of the England fan who feels the need to boo always does so knowing that at some point those boos will be thrown back at them. This obviously hasn’t been a problem for the England women’s team.
In terms of European pedigree, the gap between Germany and England couldn’t be much greater. Germany are eight-time winners of this tournament, although this was only England’s second appearance in the final. And while Germany’s absence from the last Olympics, prompted by a failure to get past the quarter-finals of the last World Cup, had hinted at a decline on its part, performances since then had shown it was coming back. at its best.
A bomb fell, barely ten minutes before kick-off. After a long pre-match discussion, centered in particular on whether she would finish the tournament as the top scorer, he filtered that Alex Popp had been injured during the warm-up and would not play. The Wolfsburg striker, with 59 goals in 119 appearances for her country, would prove to be a big loss for the Germany side.
Losing a player ten minutes before kick-off is one of the biggest unwanted distractions a team can experience before a big game. Losing a player of Popp’s quality only makes that distraction even bigger, and England started with confidence as Germany struggled to adjust to their late change of plans.
England almost got off to a perfect start, with Fran Kirby on the left to float the ball towards the far post for Ellen White to provide a comfortable save for Germany keeper, Merle Frohms. Fran Kirby and Beth Mead found space on the left wing to their liking, although England needed a firm header from Lucy Bronze to direct a ferocious shot on goal. As Germany settled into the game, their strength, especially in midfield, began to show.
But Ellen White, all heat and light, led a constant bustle that led to a series of pressures and corners, but without creating too many clear chances. Two yellow cards in the space of a few minutes – the first a little harsh for Georgia Stanway, the second probably a little more deserved for a slightly overheated White – hinted at a small loss of their normal self-control, and the heart of England was in their mouths. when a scramble in the goalmouth required the ball to be hooked to the line.
Chances were slim on the pitch, but with seven minutes to play England finally had a clear target for Germany when White was caught off guard on the shot and saw the ball go a foot past -above. They finished the first half the strongest of the two teams, but in the interval the score was still scoreless, with clues as to who could possibly win this game still thin on the pitch.
England started the second half in sloppy fashion under a very high German press. With the crowd only returning to their seats for the start of the second half, it was a disappointing recovery from the hosts. Recognizing this need to freshen things up a bit, Sarina Wiegman replaced Kirby and White with Alessia Russo and Ella Toone.
And comes the hour, comes the woman. Ella Toone had been on the court for just five minutes when her moment came. Keira Walsh’s pass sliced through the middle of a German defense like a hot knife through butter and Toone ran over it, lifting the ball over Frohms and just under the crossbar to give England the lead . It was a marvelous piece of football, a precisely placed pass, a beautifully timed run and a finish of considerable composure.
Wembley, of course, exploded with a vast wall of noise, but the goal was quickly followed by a warning. Magull forced his way into a small gap on the right and hit the post, Earps rushing to save the rebound. But as Germany advanced they began to push England back and with 11 minutes to go they found a way, Wassmuth’s pass inside finding Magull, who fired into the roof of the goal five meters away. Suddenly and very audibly, Wembley deflated.
At the end of these tournaments, the margins between victory and defeat can be incredibly narrow, and as the clock ticked towards the final whistle, there were more Wiegman changes. England, she thought instead, needed the break offered by the full-time whistle more than Germany.
England built much of their reputation throughout this tournament on their exceptional game management, but that was now undergoing their biggest test yet, and it looked like they were in danger of caving under the pressure. For the goal, the defense was a little tired and Germany’s attacking play was just shrewd enough.
The first overtime period was tired. The sound inside Wembley ranged from near silence to a guttural roar of something approaching despair. Chances were scarce as the game frayed around the edges, but with nine minutes to go the barrage broke. From a corner on the right, Bronze’s shot was blocked by Frohms, and Chloe Kelly scrambled it all down the line, her second goal for her country, and yet another goal from the substitutes’ bench.
And this time game management came into play, and in a way that hadn’t happened in the first ninety. Germany got a shot into the side netting but otherwise there was little tension in the final eight or nine minutes. The spirits rose, with Jill Scott getting involved in shouting that may have left readers on their lips wondering how much the German players will have understood, but the full-time whistle came with Germany unable to even gain possession of the ball.
England are therefore European champions, and those who wondered what that meant for the players need only see the post-match interview with Chloe Kelly, who could well pass for the one of the great football interviewsconsisting of her shouting something that started as a “thank you” but then turned into something barely comprehensible, singing a few bars of “Sweet Caroline” at the top of her voice, then s fleeing with the mic, which was quickly shut down, presumably just to be on the safe side.
At this historic moment, the inequalities of the past are not to be forgiven. The FA have at least apologized for their 50-year ban on women’s football in this country, and their five-year plan has clearly succeeded, but their predecessors, who were unable to step out in front of a crowd of 87,000 and frolic around pitch while belting out a Neil Diamond song, should not be forgotten. This England team has cut the chains of the past. This team and this tournament are definitely a major step forward for women’s football in this country. The game in this country will never be quite the same again.