Euro 2022 lives up to the hype with stunning summer of football

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This summer’s Women’s Euros was billed as the “biggest and best-ever” incarnation of the competition – something hard to argue with after England won the tournament for the first time on home soil.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin used those words on the day the 13th edition – delayed by a year from its original scheduled date by the coronavirus pandemic – got under way.

At that point ticket sales had broken the 500,000 mark, indicating the competition’s overall attendance record of 240,000 from Euro 2017 in the Netherlands was set to be smashed.

England fans in the stands at the Lionesses' match against Austria at Old Trafford (Martin Ricketts/PA).
England fans in the stands at the Lionesses’ match against Austria at Old Trafford (Martin Ricketts/PA)

And that half-a-million figure was passed as the Lionesses sealed glory against Germany in front of 87,192 jubilant fans at Wembley, which is a record for any UEFA European Championship.

The tournament opened with England playing Austria at Old Trafford in front of 68,871, the biggest crowd for a Women’s Euros match, and other attendance records have been set at various stages over the past few weeks en route to a total of 574,875.

There have also been big numbers watching on-screen – BBC One’s coverage of the Lionesses’ last-four victory over Sweden received a peak television audience of over nine million, with the final set to comfortably beat that figure.

And the action people witnessed was a compelling showcase of where the women’s game has got to.

Georgia Stanway scoring her extra-time winner for England against Spain (Gareth Fuller/PA).
Georgia Stanway scoring her extra-time winner for England against Spain (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The hosts have certainly played their role in that, with 22 goals on their way to glory including an 8-0 demolition of Norway in the group stage, the most emphatic victory in Euros history, and a dramatic 2-1 quarter-final win over Spain, sealed by Georgia Stanway’s showstopping strike in extra time.

The manner of their 2-1 final win over Germany at Wembley only consolidated the England squad’s place at the forefront of the nation’s mind.

Their most prominent star en route to the trophy was Golden Boot winner and player of the tournament Beth Mead, netting six times – a tally matched by Alexandra Popp in a slick Germany outfit’s campaign, a remarkable personal story of bouncing back from injury only for her personal curse to strike again and rule her out at Wembley.

France were among the most entertaining sides to watch, as were Portugal, who only got to the tournament as a late replacement for Russia and gave a very commendable account of themselves.

The group stage also saw Belgium and Austria do an admirable job of securing qualification at the expense of higher-ranked teams.

Portugal gave a good account of themselves after replacing Russia at the tournament (martin Rickett/PA).
Portugal gave a good account of themselves after replacing Russia at the tournament (Martin Rickett/PA)

Northern Ireland, the lowest-ranked side in the competition making their major tournament bow, were able to celebrate a first goal at this level when Julie Nelson scored in their 4-1 loss to Norway.

Norway’s returning superstar Ada Hegerberg, who had ended a self-imposed exile from international football earlier in the year, did not make the kind of impression many had anticipated as her side failed to reach the knockout rounds.

Hegerberg’s fellow Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas was deprived of the chance to shine for Spain at the tournament by an ACL injury, and another big name was ruled out when Marie-Antoinette Katoto sustained a similar issue in France’s opener, while the Netherlands’ star forward Vivianne Miedema saw her campaign heavily disrupted by a coronavirus case.

Those who have ended up as stand-outs over the last few weeks include some exciting youngsters, such as 20-year-old Germany midfielder Lena Oberdorf and Miedema’s team-mate Daphne van Domselaar, 22.

Netherlands goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar in action (Tim Goode/PA).
Netherlands goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar in action (Tim Goode/PA)

Van Domselaar had been a key contributor to some impressive goalkeeping across the tournament – an area of women’s football that has been particularly scrutinised over the years.

Euro 2022 has in general been quite a statement to any doubters of the women’s game, and hopes are high over the impact it will have – in the host nation and the wider picture – in adding to what was already considerable momentum.

On the eve of the final, Ceferin spoke about inspiring increasing participation across the continent as he labelled this summer’s showpiece “a tournament for the ages” and said: “We hoped this would be the best ever Women’s Euro, but it has been even better than we imagined.”

England would certainly agree with that.

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