And so it comes down to this… Two powerhouses competing for the trophy in the glittering showpiece. But with home advantage and a sold-out Wembley crowd tonight, kick-off 5pm, England will make history by claiming their first Women’s European Championship title, writes Um-E-Aymen Babar.Embed from Getty Images
Football has, once again, proven itself to be one of the greatest unifiers. Today fans will gather in their tens of thousands at a sold-out Wembley Stadium or huddled in the hundreds at public screens to watch one of the most anticipated games of the European Championships. The Lionesses will face Germany in the Euro 2022 final. Guaranteed tears. Guaranteed cheers. Yet, somehow the result of the final seems less significant when compared to the growth of women’s football that we have witnessed over this past month. We have already won.
The Lionesses we see now seem incomparable to the underwhelming performance in the opening game against Austria at Old Trafford. The nerves have been buried and now they’re fearless. They have gone from strength to strength: elegantly and effortlessly breaking records and setting a new standard. Alessia Russo’s spectacular backheel nutmeg speaks for itself.
Germany too secured their place at Wembley after two goals from captain Alexandra Popp put them ahead against rivals France. They will now be arriving in north-west London, one match away from potentially increasing their tally to nine-time European Championship winners. Predictably, the final will break records once again. England will be looking to win the tournament for the very first time. They beat Sweden — who are the highest-ranked European side — 4-0 in the semi-finals at Bramall Lane and didn’t concede a goal. Their victory was witnessed by a peak television audience of 9.3 million — the highest in the tournament so far.Embed from Getty Images
However, the Germans have also proven to deliver under pressure too. Their leading forward Klara Buhl tested positive for Covid in the build up to their semi-final game against Les Bleues. However, it clearly did not impact the team’s performance as they will be playing under Wembley arch tonight.
The trajectory of women’s football has, both personally and publicly, been phenomenal in this tournament. Women in Football reported that Brighton & Hove Albion Women saw a 15 per cent increase in the number of Women’s Super League 2022/23 season ticket sales. There was also a 55 per cent increase in girls booked on to summer coaching camps. Three weeks ago, while watching Love Island, my American best friend texted me asking: ‘Who’s Michael Owen?’ Tonight, she’ll be sitting beside me in an England shirt cheering on the Lionesses. What a ride it has been.Embed from Getty Images
Key battle: Bright v Popp
Both teams are hove some of the strongest players in this tournament but a deciding factor in the final will be how strategically both teams can defend — and standing in the way of Germany’s star striker Popp is the rock-solid Millie Bright at centre-back for England.
Popp has not had the easiest journey into the tournament. Three weeks before the beginning of the start she tested positive for Covid but managed to recover in time. In 2013, despite Germany winning the tournament, Popp suffered ankle ligament damage and had to watch from the bench as her team revelled in championship glory. She continued to suffer knee problems and last April was out for 11 months. Popp was also not part of the starting 11 for Germany’s opening game, but coming on as a substitute, she quickly made her mark. She has scored six goals from seven shots on target and will, undoubtedly, be looking to extend her lead. Her ruthlessness is given extra fuel as she is making up for lost time.
England’s Bright brings a point of contention for Germany. Her partnership with England captain Leah Williamson has played a key role in their defence. Calm and reliable Bright has recovered the ball 46 times — more than any other player in the tournament — and is more than a match for Popp’s aggressive style of play.
A testament to the strength of both teams is also evident in their key players competing for recognition of their own expertise. Popp is tied with England’s Beth Mead in the race to receive the Golden Boot trophy. Both are level with six goals. However, if perhaps by some miracle, neither player scores in the final, then the trophy will be dependent on assists and Mead is in the lead on that front. Similarly, Mary Earps and Merle Frohms are both tied in battle for the unofficial Golden Glove too.
Germany are sweating on a possible return for Buhl from Covid but otherwise came through the semi-final win over France unscathed.
The fully-fit Lionesses will be donning the classic all white England shirt when they march onto the Wembley grass while Germany will play in dark green. Following the increase we have seen in pre-match aggression during the men’s European Championship last year and the events that took place during the Champions League final at Stade de France, the Football Association confirmed that there will be stringent security measures for the sold-out Women’s European Championship final.
Last five results (all competitions)
England: WWWWW Germany: WWWWW
England wins: 2 Germany wins: 21 Draws: 4
23/02/2022: England 3 Germany 1 (Arnold Clark Cup)
09/11/2019: England 1 Germany 2 (Friendly)
Game changer: Beth Mead
Mead’s performance throughout this tournament has been nothing short of incredible. She’s a goal away from securing the Golden Boot honour of the tournament. She’s tied with Germany’s Popp but is still in the lead on assists. Her ability to strike past Germany’s strong defensive wall and charge confidently into the penalty box will hold her in good stead throughout the final match. She will be the perfect player to break through that wall.Embed from Getty Images
Score prediction: England 2 Germany 1
It will be a strong battle as Germany are aggressive and experienced in major tournament finals. However, with the home advantage and fuelled by their fans, England will be looking to make history, which no longer seems so radical considering all the records they have broken throughout this tournament, and secure their first victory on home soil. Humbly and heroically football could finally be coming home.
Follow writes Um-E-Aymen Babar on Twitter @ItsUmeAymen