Euro 2022 win delivers dream ending to a summer which will change the face of women’s football forever

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Euro 2022 win delivers dream ending to a summer which will change the face of women’s football forever
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After the full-time whistle and once England had lifted the European Championship trophy high into the Wembley sky, Jill Scott simply stood in disbelief with her hands on her head.

The midfielder has made 161 appearances for England but never experienced anything like yesterday’s final against Germany. No one has.

Everywhere you looked around Wembley there was pure emotion. People cried, danced, hugged and pinched themselves after an extra-time goal from Chloe Kelly secured a first major trophy for the Lionesses — and England’s first since 1966.

When England won the World Cup at Wembley 56 years ago, women were banned from playing football in this country. Now, they were centre stage and national heroes.

“We should always, always remember the ones who went before us because they made a path for us and this team makes a path for the next generation,” said England head coach Sarina Wiegman. “So never forget where you come from, we don’t forget.”

This was the dream end to the perfect summer for the women’s game, which has now changed forever in this country after England were crowned European champions in front of a record crowd of 87,192.

The tournament has been about creating landmark and watershed moments, and they came in abundance yesterday.

Ella Toone’s chipped finish to give the Lionesses the lead will be played over and over again. Lina Magull silenced Wembley and had a nation fearing penalties but mercifully they never came, thanks to Chloe Kelly, who came off the bench to become a national hero.

Her finish was scruffy as she scrambled the ball home from a corner, but her celebration was iconic as she whipped off her shirt in a manner reminiscent of Brandi Chastain for the USA at the 1999 World Cup.

That win for America lit the touch paper for women’s football in the States and Kelly has now done the same in England.

Letting it sink in. (AFP via Getty Images)
Letting it sink in. (AFP via Getty Images)

“The world will be changed,” said Wiegman. “We know when you win a European Championship the world will be changed and the world around us will have changed.

“We did well and the whole country can stand behind us in the stadiums, outside the stadiums, and I think we really made a change.

“We changed the society and that’s what we want. There is so much more than football.

“Winning is why we are here, we want to win and our job is to do as good as possible, but through football you can make little changes in society and that’s what we hope for.

“This tournament has done so much for the game, but also for society and women in society in England, and also across Europe and across the world.”

Everyone at the FA, in the squad and Wiegman herself knew how big an opportunity this summer was for the women’s game in this country. The stage was all set, with record crowds and huge TV audiences expected and players in demand from sponsors.

It is one thing having a stage, but performing on it is another task entirely and England have delivered in emphatic fashion.

England Lionesses 2022 UEFA Women’s Euro Victory Celebration For Fans in Trafalgar Square

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They dazzled in the group stage, winning their three games and scoring 20 unanswered goals. They beat pre-tournament favourites Spain in the quarter-finals, the second-best ranked team in the world, Sweden, in the semi-finals and then eight-time European champions Germany yesterday.

Wiegman has been at the heart of it all. She took charge only last August but in that time England are unbeaten in 20 matches and are now European champions.

“She’ll never take any credit but you can see how she influences us,” said England defender Rachel Daly.

“She’s a calming presence on the bench, in the changing rooms, in training. She’s one of a kind and we’re so lucky to have her. She should be [recognised as one of the top coaches in the men’s and women’s game].”

Wiegman has planned this tournament to perfection, even bringing in members of England Women’s 1971 World Cup squad to speak to the players. They were the “trailblazers”, playing at a time when the 50-year ban on women’s football had only just been lifted, and Wiegman wanted her squad to see who had laid the foundations for them.

In training, Wiegman has been clear and concise in formulating a plan for success. Every player knew their role from day one and she has created a winning formula no one could stop.

Germany will have known Wiegman’s plan after she had named the same XI in every game of Euro 2022 and made near enough the same substitutions. She did the same yesterday. Those substitutions have so often been the difference — and it was the case again.

The match was played out as Wiegman predicted, with both sides incredibly physical and pressing high out of possession. Chances were few and far between but, when one presented itself just after the hour mark, Toone took it.

Keira Walsh, who ran the midfield, found her with a brilliant through-ball and Toone dinked Merle Frohms with an audacious chip.

That felt like the iconic moment the women’s game craved and the goal that would win this final, but the Germans hit back through Magull’s deft finish 11 minutes before the end of normal time.

England did not panic, though, and Wiegman again used her bench to full effect. Scott came on, injecting passion and snarling in the face of German players as she jumped into tackles. Alex Greenwood was introduced at left-back, steadying the defence when it could have rocked. It was another substitute, Kelly, who was the hero. A year ago, she suffered an ACL injury that forced her to miss the Olympics. The winger was so distraught that she could not face watching a minute of the Games, but now she will have her winning goal on repeat.

England still had 10 minutes to survive and they showed the streetwise edge they have developed under Wiegman, with Kelly time-wasting in the corner as the seconds ticked down.

History made. (AFP via Getty Images)
History made. (AFP via Getty Images)

Like so many of this squad, she is now a role model. Kelly has bounced back from adversity and that is a theme with this group.

Beth Mead was overlooked for the Olympics last year, yet yesterday she was crowned player of the tournament and Golden Boot winner.

Fran Kirby missed the final three months of the season and had an oxygen tent installed in her house due to a fatigue-based illness, but now she is a European champion.

Wiegman is a role model too, coming into a foreign country and unifying the nation in the space of just 10 months.

“My challenge was can I bring people together from another culture,” she said. “First the staff, then players and then how it works out in this year is incredible. That’s something you dream for, you hope for.”

Wiegman has made England’s dream a reality.

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