Women’s Euro 2022: Sarina Wiegman the key in helping England take elusive next step as Sweden showdown nears

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Women’s Euro 2022: Sarina Wiegman the key in helping England take elusive next step as Sweden showdown nears
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England are no stranger to the semi-finals of major tournaments, but taking that final step has proved elusive in recent years.

Tonight is England’s fourth semi-final in a row, however in each of their last three they have fallen at that hurdle.

Against Sweden tonight they will be hoping to end that run and book a place in Sunday’s Euro 2022 final at Wembley.

The odds seem in their favour to do so. Sweden may be ranked higher than England, but they have failed to hit top gear so far at this tournament and needed a late goal to beat Belgium in the quarter-finals.

England, in contrast, have been in fine form, scoring a record 14 goals in the group stage and their unbeaten run under Sarina Wiegman is now at 18 games. They also have the advantage of being cheered on by around 30,000 fans at Bramall Lane tonight.

“I hope they (the fans) are going to bring us lots of energy again,” said Wiegman.

“We will do that ourselves, but it was really an extra thing and an extra dimension what we got in our last games. That’s really exciting and we are going to make them proud again.”

England’s biggest weapon, however, is Wiegman herself. When it comes to games like this, she has been there, done that, got the trophy.

In 2017, when Holland were hosts of the Euros, she led them all the way, beating England in the semi-finals. Two years later she got the Dutch to the World Cup final, where they narrowly lost to the USA.

Wiegman’s ability to turn England from perennial semi-finalists to winners is a big reason why the Football Association hired her and tonight is the moment for her to deliver.

“She’s been there and done it. She’s got to finals, she’s won major finals,” said Fran Kirby.

“So the best person to get us through that and do that is her. I think she will come with a lot of experience and advice, and she already has done leading into this tournament.

“I think for her it is a case of doing what’s normal for her, because obviously she’s been to a few [finals] now. I am sure we will lean on her a bit in order to get through it.”

All the talk this week has been about added pressure and semi-final curses, but inside the England camp it has been business as usual. Wiegman has built a relaxed and calm environment - and it has stayed that way even now.

After Wednesday’s quarter-final win over Spain, the England players had a day off on Thursday and some took boat trips up the Thames. On Friday, squad and staff all joined in a light-hearted game of ‘Fox Hunt’.

Preparations increased on Saturday but training remained relaxed, with head tennis, dodgeball, volleyball, walking football and footgolf all on the agenda. Players were in teams and there was a points system to keep it competitive.

“Everyone knows what we have to do, everyone is really working on a job. It’s really relaxed,” said Wiegman.

England ramped up their preparations on Sunday as all eyes turned to Sweden. Wiegman has told her squad to forget about past semi-finals and that seems wise, not least because they ended in failure but also due to the fact tonight’s game is arguably their biggest one yet.

It promises to be a very different match to the quarter-final England had against Spain last week.

Relaxed: Wiegman wants her players to forget previous semi-final losses (The FA via Getty Images)
Relaxed: Wiegman wants her players to forget previous semi-final losses (The FA via Getty Images)

On that occasion the Lionesses had to cope without having much of the ball, but Sweden will be happy to concede possession at times and try to hit England on the counter.

They haven’t clicked at this tournament so far, however it underlines their quality that despite that they have still made the semi-finals. They’ve a knack of delivering when it counts and only a year ago they made the final of the Olympic Games.

As always, England’s best chance of success will come by getting their wide players, Beth Mead and Lauren Hemp, into the game, but beyond that the bench will be key again.

The quarter-final against Spain showed how England’s substitutes can be match-winners and no other country has the same strength in depth.

In that Spain game, Ella Toone came off the bench to be England’s saviour.

The same could easily happen again tonight, with anyone from Wiegman’s squad having the chance to be a national hero.

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