AFTER giving a beleaguered nation an enormous shot in the arm, coursing with feel-good vibes and patriotism, the brilliant Lionesses are now just 90 minutes, or 120 minutes, or 120 minutes plus nerve-wracking pens away from completing a perfect summer.
Standing in their way is of course Germany – because who else could it be? – as Sarina Weigman’s side vie to win English football’s first senior major tournament for 56 years, and England Women’s first major tournament ever. It’s an opponent who beat them in 2009, in the Lionesses’ last big final, pulling away late on to rack up an unhealthy 6-2 score-line.
It simply had to be Germany. In fact, it would have felt odd had it been France, and this inevitability can be extended to the Germans navigating a path to Wembley this Sunday despite being written off before the tournament, suspected of being unsure of themselves; a team that supposedly fell between two stools. Will we ever learn in this regard? Probably not.
But we’ll get to that. What should be considered first and foremost is what Beth Mead and company have bequeathed us across these past few weeks, and how we feel as a seismic date with destiny awaits.
Because instinctively there is a nagging concern that ultimately, we will be let down; that this amazing story cannot possibly reach the conclusion it deserves, and who can blame us for such scepticism given that we’ve previously fallen in love many times over, only to be jilted at the altar or realised too late that our partner lacks substance. Here once more, we are smitten and under the firm conviction that this is ‘the one’ and so understandably we are dreading the other foot to fall, to discover they like Coldplay or hold questionable politics beliefs. Or, more pertinently, that they fluff their lines and miss their chances when it really, really counts.
Will that happen again? Will we be hurt anew after letting go of our natural cynicism and daring to dream?
Prior to England’s semi with Sweden, it was stated in these very pages that big-stage nerves could potentially disrupt Wiegman’s masterplan and early on passes did indeed go astray and the Lionesses looked a little lost amidst the scale of the occasion. But then everything clicked, and the football was fluid, and their key players shone, and by the final whistle it amounted to the most complete performance seen from an England team since, well, just a fortnight ago actually when they decimated Norway.
Still thinking about this Alessia Russo goal to be honest. 🤩pic.twitter.com/2GxR0rtUtJ
— 90min (@90min_Football) July 28, 2022
All tournament long, the Lionesses have stared down the pressure and raised their game, giving us iconic moments in the process, including that eight-goal downing of the Norwegians and Russo’s ridiculous back-heel last Tuesday. All of which adds up to something substantial, enough to entrust that the past does not dictate the future and it’s okay to emotionally invest in this team, doubts be damned.
A good deal of that belief is sourced in a forward-line illuminated by Mead, whose six goals put her in a head-to-head battle with Germany’s Alexandra Popp to win the Golden Boot. That is, unless Alessia Russo does an absolute madness from the bench and grabs a hat-trick and right now, so impactful has she been, that doesn’t feel too far-fetched.
Leading the line is Ellen White, selfless and forever full of endeavour, while on the opposing flank Lauren Hemp is a constant danger and behind all of this adventure Keira Walsh and Georgia Stanway have been consistently sublime.
Yet if England’s attacking fare is receiving the bulk of the acclaim at present, their defence too warrant a heap of praise. Led by the ever-accomplished Leah Williamson, it’s a collective that has been breached only four times in their 19 games under Wiegman. That’s a goal every 7.2 hours.
And it’s a very good job too that England’s rearguard is so sound, with Germany possessing an old-fashioned number nine in Popp who has converted in five consecutive games, the first player at a Euros to achieve this. Elsewhere, Sara Dabritz has dazzled while in the heart of midfield Lena Oberdorf has hugely impressed. The 20-year-old went into the tournament with great expectations placed on her. She is exceeding them.
At the back meanwhile, Die Nationalelf are solid and well-drilled and weren’t we informed before a ball had been kicked that this was an uncharacteristic weak area that might be exploited this summer? In the event, they have conceded only once all tournament. Will we ever learn?
Post-victory over France, Germany’s boss Martina Voss-Tecklenburg said of this weekend’s final, ‘it will be a great football feast’, and let’s hope she’s right though it is likeliest not to be.
That both teams boast parsimonious defences is never a good sign, nor is the welter of individual battles that might cancel each player out. Hemp v Gwinn. Popp v Williamson. Those two alone fascinate, and though it’s an awfully big claim to make, whoever comes out on top between Walsh and Oberdorf in the centre-circle will be a Euro Championship winner come Sunday evening.
That it’s a final must also be a factor. Beyond its opening skirmishes, a fear of losing will come to the fore.
Don’t be surprised therefore if a single goal decides matters and then it solely comes down to determining which side scores it, and for this have we learned nothing from this tremendously uplifting few weeks? Believe in Mead. Believe in the Lionesses. Believe that dreams can come true.