Super-subs provide selection headache for Sarina Wiegman as England gather momentum for semi-final showdown

Super-subs provide selection headache for Sarina Wiegman as England gather momentum for semi-final showdown

For so long, this quarter-final looked like it would be the end of England’s Euro 2022 journey.

Spain were suffocating the Lionesses in and out of possession, and when Esther Gonzalez had put them ahead shortly after half-time all the talk of England being the new favourites to go all the way felt premature.

It was the first time England had trailed in a competitive match under Sarina Wiegman and no one knew how they would respond. The answer was emphatic.

Ella Toone equalised with just six minutes of normal time remaining and after that this quarter-final was never the same. England were carried forward by a wave of momentum, which seemed to propel Georgia Stanway’s winner in extra-time into the top corner.

It should follow them to the semi-finals too, where a meeting with Olympic silver medallists Sweden likely awaits — provided the Covid-19 outbreak in their camp is not so severe it swings the balance in Belgium’s favour.

England know all about suffering with Covid, as their head coach Sarina Wiegman tested negative only hours before kick-off to be on the touchline. How thankful she will have been to be at the Amex as she joined in the celebrations, with defender Millie Bright lifting her off her feet in the biggest of bear hugs.

The party continued in the dressing room, where players danced to ABBA and ate pizza and cake. When the dust settles, the Lionesses will know they need to improve for the semi-finals.

So often England come unstuck at major tournaments when they face a side technically superior on the ball, and Spain’s domination of possession suggested that would be the case last night.

The excellent Bright kept Spain at bay, although they continually found joy down England’s left, with Rachel Daly having a torrid time. She was caught diving in for Spain’s goal, and being hooked for Alex Greenwood late on suggests her place is under threat. That was one of four changes by Wiegman in normal time. England were facing the embarrassment of going out of a home Euros at the quarter-final stage, but Wiegman did not panic.

Instead, she was brave and bold. Few coaches would hook the tournament’s top scorer, Beth Mead, and England’s record female goalscorer, Ellen White, before the hour mark, but Wiegman did. Off came Fran Kirby too, one of the most creative players at this tournament.

In Pictures | Women’s Euro 2022 (Quarter-Final): England vs Spain

The trio who came on changed the game. Chloe Kelly offered pace and directness out wide, Toone played with an off-the-cuff flair that was reminiscent of Jack Grealish at last year’s men’s Euros and Alessia Russo provided the focal point the attack needed. Russo and Toone combined for the equaliser, with the former knocking down a header for the latter to lash home.

England then began to play the football that has become their hallmark under Wiegman, full of pace and purpose, with Stanway’s long-range strike six minutes into extra-time showing how confidence had been restored. It was a brilliant strike from the 23-year-old.

Much has been made of England’s strength in depth and last night’s win showed why.

Wiegman’s substitutes changed the game, and now she faces the dilemma of whether they should remain on the bench. The 52-year-old has named the same XI in every match so far, but that feels likely to change next week.

Greenwood should start over Daly at left-back, while it feels like Russo has the edge over White in attack. Kelly and Toone, however, would perhaps be best kept as impact players.

It is all food for thought for Wiegman after a night that will live long in the memory. Those at the FA thought the 8-0 win over Norway at the Amex would be the game that captured the nation’s imagination, but it’s more likely to be this win.

The fans last night were certainly swept away in it all, singing “football’s coming home” as they left the ground.

And, who knows, it just might be.