I’m just loving playing football – Alessia Russo relishing England’s Euro run

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Alessia Russo has spoken of how much she is enjoying herself on the pitch after her brilliant back-heel in England’s 4-0 Euro 2022 semi-final triumph over Sweden.

Substitute Russo notched the third goal at Bramall Lane in the 68th minute when she back-heeled the ball through Hedvig Lindahl’s legs after the goalkeeper had parried her initial shot.

It was a fourth goal for the Manchester United striker in the Lionesses’ home Euros campaign that will now conclude with Sunday’s final at Wembley against either Germany or France.

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Russo, who is at her first major international tournament and has come off the bench to replace Ellen White in each of England’s five matches, said when asked about her confidence levels: “I’m loving it so that helps with confidence.

“I think when you’re enjoying your football you play your best. Maybe (even just attempting that goal) does show a bit of confidence – but I’m just loving playing football.”

Breaking down what happened when she scored, the 23-year-old said: “To be honest, the first (shot), I should have scored – we were actually working on cut-backs in training the other day.

“And then once it fell back to me I thought, ‘Right, what’s the quickest route for this ball to get in the net?’ because I should have scored in the first place. So I just swung a foot at it and luckily it hit the back of the net.

Alessia Russo's back-heel bamboozles Sweden goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl
Alessia Russo’s back-heel bamboozles Sweden goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl (Danny Lawson/PA).

“Of course, to score in a semi-final and progress to the final is a huge highlight of my career. I don’t normally score back-heels and I don’t think you’ll ever see one again, but I’ll take it for now!”

On her role as an impact substitute, Russo added: “I’ll take any time I get to play for England. It’s been amazing and I’m loving playing for the Three Lions and with everyone else.

“I think if that’s the role I’ll take it for sure. Whenever my chance is there I’ll take it.”

England boss Sarina Wiegman labelled Russo’s goal “phenomenal”, while winger Beth Mead – scorer of the opener in Sheffield – revealed the players had been calling it “very naughty”.

Russo has come on as a substitute in each of England's five games at the Euros (Andrew Matthews/PA).
Russo has come on as a substitute in each of England’s five games at the Euros (Andrew Matthews/PA).

“Alessia’s an unbelievable player,” Mead said.

“She’s worked so hard and we’re not surprised she has scored those type of goals. She does it in training, and we’ve been saying it’s a very naughty goal, megsing the keeper with a back-heel. I don’t think it gets better than that in a semi-final.”

Mead went into the contest already leading the race for the Golden Boot and her strike in the 34th minute took her to six goals for the tournament.

The Arsenal star has equalled the record goal tally for a player at a single edition of the competition, level with Germany’s Inka Grings’ haul from 2009.

Beth Mead (left) leads the race for the Golden Boot (Danny Lawson/PA).
Beth Mead (left) leads the race for the Golden Boot (Danny Lawson/PA).

Asked about that, Mead said: “It’s a little bit surreal for me, but it’s not something I’ve really thought about too much.

“I’m happy to be scoring goals and (providing) assists and helping the team. I’m just more happy about us being in the final and winning with the team.”

Mead, who last summer missed out on selection for the Great Britain squad for the Tokyo Olympics, has now scored 20 England goals since Wiegman took charge last September.

She added of her goal-scoring: “I think a lot of people have said to me I needed to start believing in myself a little bit more and I am trying to do that – I think it’s easier said than done.

“But I know my ability as a player, in the past I’ve played as a nine, so I knew I could score goals, and I’m just happy to be in the right place at the right time sometimes at the moment. The girls are playing amazing and making it easy for me.”

After Mead put England ahead having been teed up by Lucy Bronze, the roles reversed for the second three minutes after the break when Bronze headed home from Mead’s corner.

And following Russo’s goal, Mead then registered another assist when Fran Kirby made it 4-0 with a chipped effort in the 76th minute.