As the European Championships kick off tomorrow, fans can help roar the unbeaten Lionesses all the way to Wembley. But with the quality of opposition in their way, it just might not be enough to see football come home, writes Rachel Roberts.
Group A – England, Norway, Austria, Northern Ireland
Hosts England will be hoping they can benefit from the boost of home support that pushed the Netherlands to Euros glory five years ago. If they are to do so, they will need to go that one step further and improve on their semi-final exit to the Dutch in 2017.
The 2019 World Cup delivered a fourth-place finish, but with new manager Sarina Wiegman and recently anointed captain Leah Williamson, this is a refreshed team. Excitement has been steadily building across the country as preparations have been made to host the tournament; over 500,000 tickets have been sold – more than double that of Euro 2017. This England side has galvanised fans, as their recent form has demonstrated they have what it takes to make it all the way to Wembley.
After announcing her final squad, Wiegman said of her selection that there was a good balance to be found between experience and quality. She is certainly right: there are eight players who featured at both the Netherlands 2017 and the World Cup in 2019, 14 of whom maintain their spots from Phil Neville’s 2019 squad – with centurions Ellen White (107) and Jill Scott (157) amongst them.
With an average age of 26, this side is utilising tournament experience whilst maintaining youth and quality. There are nine players making their major tournament debuts – goalkeepers Ellie Roebuck and Hannah Hampton, defenders Lotte Wubben-Moy and Jess Carter, midfielder Ella Toone, and forwards Alessia Russo, Lauren Hemp, Chloe Kelly and Bethany England. All these talents have starred in the increasingly competitive WSL, so they’re not shy of experience at the highest level.
Carter, for example, played a key role in Chelsea’s defence, and England added goals as they secured both the league and FA Cup for the Blues last season. Fellow defender Wubben-Moy made 15 appearances for Arsenal in a season where they were twice runners-up to Chelsea, whilst Manchester City’s Kelly is back in attack after recovering from an ACL injury last May.
England are in fine form heading into the competition. Unbeaten since Wiegman took over, they were victorious in the Arnold Clark Cup in February, which included tricky games against Spain and Germany. In April, World Cup Qualifiers against North Macedonia and Northern Ireland – who England will face again in Group A – delivered 10-0 and 5-0 wins respectively. Final friendly preparations saw a 3-0 beating of Belgium on June 16, a demonstration of resilience as they came from behind to defeat the Netherlands 5-1 on June 24, and a 4-0 win against Switzerland on June 30.
Only three goals have been conceded in 2022, but it is the calibre of opposition they have been tested by that will make these results even more promising. Half of these fixtures came against teams who are ranked higher than England in eighth, but their ability to take something from more difficult matches and be unrelenting in others shows Wiegman allows no complacency. The resounding win against the Dutch was the first time England have needed to come from behind this year, and by defeating the holders, they gave the most impressive indicator that the Lionesses are ready to roar this summer. The only question that remains is whether they can deliver when it counts the most.
Euros squad list
Goalkeepers: Mary Earps (Man Utd), Hannah Hampton (Aston Villa), Ellie Roebuck (Man City).
Defenders: Millie Bright (Chelsea), Lucy Bronze (Man City), Jess Carter (Chelsea), Rachel Daly (Houston Dash), Alex Greenwood (Man City), Demi Stokes (Man City), Lotte Wubben-Moy (Arsenal).
Midfielders: Fran Kirby (Chelsea), Jill Scott (unattached), Georgia Stanway (Bayern Munich), Ella Toone (Man Utd), Keira Walsh (Man City), Leah Williamson (Arsenal).
Forwards: Beth England (Chelsea), Lauren Hemp (Man City), Chloe Kelly (Man City), Beth Mead (Arsenal), Nikita Parris (Arsenal), Alessia Russo (Man Utd), Ellen White (Man City).
Manager: Sarina Wiegman
Announced as Neville’s successor in August 2020, Wiegman became England’s first non-British permanent manager. She has experienced great success at club level, winning the Dutch league at two different clubs. Having served as an assistant, upon taking over as head coach of the Netherlands months before the start of Euro 2017, Wiegman turned a squad low on form and morale into tournament winners. She followed this by leading the Oranje to a runners-up finish at the 2019 World Cup.
With the Lionesses, her first fixture – an 8-0 win against North Macedonia last September – set the tone for the form that has followed. She has brought the experience of a proven winner to an England side that in the past have been promising, but never yet able to fully deliver. Under Wiegman’s guidance, there is now a genuine belief this can change.
Star player: Ellen White
One of the biggest names in the English game, White has helped raise the profile of women’s football in her country. She is England’s all-time record goalscorer, with 50 goals: a tally which also places her joint second, level with Harry Kane, across all of English national football.
Domestically this season her numbers haven’t been high, netting four times in 22 appearances for Manchester City in the WSL, but White knows how to do the business for England. Her six goals in France 2019 earned her joint top scorer, and so far this year she has two goals in four appearances for the Lionesses. White is sure to add to this tally during this summer’s tournament, and the forward’s contributions will be significant if England are to succeed.
Group A fixtures
Wednesday, July 6: England v Austria, kick-off 8pm, Old Trafford
Monday, July 11: England v Norway, kick-off 8pm, Brighton & Hove Community Stadium
Friday, July 15: Northern Ireland v England, kick-off 8pm, St Mary’s
Must-watch game: England v Austria
As the tournament opener, the pressure is on hosts England to ensure they get off to a good start but Austria are in good form. They have won four out of their last five fixtures, with only a 2-1 defeat to Denmark on June 12 to blot the record. These wins include a 3-1 victory against fellow Group A members Northern Ireland in April and a 1-0 win against a higher-ranked Belgium side in their final warm-up game before Euro 2022. Victory for England here would be the perfect way to begin and calm any anxieties. Lose, and a Norway game that reads the most difficult of the group on paper, becomes critical for progression.
2013: group stages
England can absolutely win this tournament, and as the Dutch did before them, they have the added bonus of home support to see them over the line. If they emerge victorious, they would have earned it. As strong as the Lionesses are, the highly-ranked squads of Sweden and Spain will be a challenge to overcome. Sweden are the top-ranked side in Europe and Spain enjoy the talents of some special players, although they’ll be without injured superstar Alexia Putellas.
England are high on confidence, and with strong form and equally strong support, they will be aiming for nothing less than the final. But there are others too, like tournament experts Germany, who have the winning experience England lack at major tournaments and we predict will have the edge over them in the final.
Follow Rachel on Twitter @rachellrobertts