The Lionesses forward’s ready to make semi-final heartache a thing of the past tomorrow night under inspirational manager, writes Ruby Malone.Embed from Getty Images
Fran Kirby believes the team spirit fostered by experienced head coach Sarina Wiegman’s ‘special’ player management skills will help propel the Lionesses to the Euro 2022 final.
England take on Sweden – the highest-ranked team left at the tournament – in the semi-final at Bramall Lane tomorrow night in a bid to get to a major tournament final for the first time since 2009. The Lionesses have made it to the final four of the last three big tournaments (both 2015 and 2019 World Cups and Euro 2017) but exited at this stage in all three.
Kirby is hoping this time will be different, especially with a proven Euros winner on their side. Wiegman knows how to get her teams firing for big games, having won Euro 2017 with the Netherlands, and the Lionesses forward reckons the togetherness created by the manager’s deft leadership can take the team to new heights.
“She’s been there and done it. She’s got to finals, she’s won major finals, so the best person to get us through that is her,” Kirby said.
“She’s a great coach – the way she sees football, the way that she analyses other teams. But I think that her management of players is what sticks out for me. The way that she’s made every person feel valued in this team – whether you’re a star, whether you’re coming in as a sub, or you don’t get any minutes. I think everyone knows what their role is in the team and what they’re there to do.
“To make people still feel valued and feel hungry when they come on the pitch, that they can change it and they can help, is a really special quality and I think she has that.”
It’s not just Wiegman who’s motivating this team. Kirby was a member of the squad for the three previous semi-final defeats and admits she’s also driven by the desire to never again experience the pain of exiting at such a crucial stage of a tournament.Embed from Getty Images
She said: “It takes a long time to recover from losing a semi-final like that – it’s not a case of you wake up the next day and you’re just ready to go again. It takes a bit of time to assess and evaluate it and see how your feelings are, what your thoughts are. I don’t want to experience having to take a month to get over the fact that I didn’t get to a final.
“It’s in the back of the minds of a few of the girls who have been there. We’ve been in those semi-finals now but, for us, it’s about the present and making sure we’re not in that position again. It would mean everything to reach a final with this England team, and for us who have been part of it for a long time, I think it would top everything we’ve done so far.”
England have had a great tournament, extending their unbeaten run under Wiegman to 18, scoring 16 goals and only conceding one. That breach didn’t come until the quarter-final in a tough but gripping contest against a Spain side ranked seventh in the world. The Lionesses’ dazzling performances have alerted the nation to the level of women’s football in this country and record audiences being gripped by Euros euphoria have quashed the stale ‘no one cares about women’s football’ opinion.
Chelsea star Kirby, who scored the opener in their win over Northern Ireland in the group stages, is mindful of the fact that an increasing number of the squad are becoming household names and hopes they can create a lasting legacy from the current widespread support.
“It’s a bit surreal when you’re just walking down the street and people are out the windows clapping you. Hopefully it means that we’re doing people proud and we’re inspiring them and showing them what women’s football can do in this country,” she said.Embed from Getty Images
“We want to be playing in front of crowds like this week in, week out in this country. So, I’m hoping that it won’t just be: ‘What an amazing Euros’. I hope it becomes, ‘Oh my god, look at the WSL this year, look how much it’s grown and look how many people are coming’, and that’s what we’re aspiring to do. With the crowds coming to our games, it shows the willingness is out there. Hopefully it becomes normal.”
She even hopes that the positivity and excitement surrounding the team at Euro 2022 will help provide a distraction for the public from the stress and worry caused by the cost-of-living crisis and rising fuel prices.
Kirby said: “Hopefully we can give people an escape for 90-plus minutes when they turn their TVs on, they will have something to cheer about and will see how passionately we play for this country. Hopefully it gives them a sense of pride and they can switch off from everything that is going on.”
You can follow Ruby on Twitter @RubyGMalone