Over little more than three weeks in July, from Manchester via Brighton, Southampton and Sheffield to Wembley, Guardian writers have followed every step of England’s journey through Women’s Euro 2022. Under Sarina Wiegman, who coached the Netherlands to success in the same tournament in 2018, the Lionesses showed they were winners.
Trailblazers. Pioneers. Game-changers. History-makers. Yes: England scored a first-half goal and began a major tournament without looking flustered or getting booed off the pitch at full time. It was comfortable rather than easy, composed rather than fluent. But as England completed their lap of honour in front of 69,000 cheering fans, the sense was of a team that were simply relieved to be off and running, determined to ride this wave of noise all the way to the end.
For all England’s busyness, their 15 shots on goal, perhaps the moment that best encapsulated them came just seconds from the end. Leah Williamson received the ball in defence, with Austrian shirts flooding forward in an attempt to hunt her down. If ever there was a time for getting rid, it was here. Instead Williamson looked up and pinged a precise 40-yard pass all along the ground to Georgia Stanway. On a night of peak pressure and peak expectation, England kept their heads, and somehow this felt like the most crucial victory of all.
This is not how England teams are meant to start tournaments. The rules are very clear on this. Instead England never really felt threatened after Beth Mead’s opening goal. Talk about a break with the past.
81min GOAL! England 8-0 Norway (Mead 81) Eight? Eight! And Beth Mead has her hat-trick! Since being introduced Greenwood has played like someone who fancies a starting role at left-back. She surges into the box and cuts back to Walsh, whose fizzing shot is well blocked by Pettersen. But as the ball breaks loose, Mead is quickest to react and taps home for her third and England’s eighth. Eighth!
90min It really should be emphasised that this Norway team – with players from Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Barcelona, Lyon, PSG and Arsenal – expected, and maybe still expect, to go deep into the competition. They have three minutes of injury time to survive and cling on to this eight-goal deficit. It really has been a remarkable England performance.
Full-time: England 8-0 Norway Peep! PEEP!! PEEEP!!! The referee puts Norway out of their misery and brings an end to one of the all-time great major tournament performances from an England team.
It was a simply stunning performance from Sarina Wiegman’s side against the former champions, who were blown away by the brilliant Beth Mead and co.
It was fitting that Fran Kirby’s rising strike into the top corner would break the resolve of a resilient Northern Ireland defence. The Chelsea forward has been in magical form for England during the group stage of the European Championship, the creative hub of the midfield, and her goal followed a typically selfless move to set up Georgia Stanway when she perhaps should have taken a shot herself.
Kirby’s goal opened the gate which the Lionesses would pour through in their final game in Group A to maintain a perfect start to their Euro 2022 campaign.
England’s smooth run through the group stage hit a small speed bump with the announcement earlier in the day that their manager had tested positive for Covid and would remain at the team’s west London base. The 52-year-old’s assistant, Arjan Veurink, who joined from the Netherlands with her, instead led the team at St Mary’s. He said before kick-off that the impact would be minimal, that Wiegman was “doing OK” and that she would be in contact with him and the rest of the staff during the game. “She is not here, but she will be,” he said. If there was ever a right time for England to lose their manager, this was perhaps it.
The party was almost over but then Ella Toone turned up and the place went wild again. A goal down and on the edge of elimination with six minutes left, England had been made to suffer by a superb Spain side, but a late equaliser from the Manchester United midfielder took them into extra time where Georgia Stanway smashed in a shot straight out of a comic to carry them into the last four. Next stop on this wild ride: Sheffield.
It wasn’t until after 10pm that they started singing “It’s coming home” here, so hard had it been. Now at last they could believe it really might be, which isn’t to say they wouldn’t suffer more – oh, they would – but by the end England’s players were standing at the side of the pitch belting out Sweet Caroline. “So good, so good,” they sang, and it certainly had been. This was a wonderful match, graced by both teams. A heroic, exhausting occasion they will never forget. Spain had shone but England resisted and rebelled, overturning Esther González’s strike – the first they have conceded at the tournament and one that threatened to bring it to a premature end.
In the end, though, it was England who are still standing, the goal that took them there one of those moments you could see unfold and may well be watching for years, Stanway striding forward and letting fly … her shot tore through the air and took a whole country with it, the party swinging now.
GOAL! England 3-0 Sweden (Russo 68)
68min Alessia Russo has scored the most outrageous goal! This is spine‑tingling stuff! Walsh and Kirby sliced Sweden apart, with Kirby putting the chance on a plate for Russo. She hit her shot straight at Lindahl, when she should have scored. Thank goodness she didn’t, because what happened next was incredible. Russo charged after the rebound, muscled Seger off the ball and produced a sudden backheel that went through the legs of the keeper. That is an amazing goal.
71min I’m still reeling from that goal. The imagination, the chutzpah, and the noise – a different kind of roar, a delirious fusion of “Get in!” and “WTF!”
GOAL! England 4-0 Sweden (Kirby 77)
77min I think it’s safe to say that England are going to Wembley. Fran Kirby, who has been close to her mischievous best tonight, gets in on the act. It came from a throw-in on the right, with Mead poking a quick, clever pass into the path of Kirby as she ran beyond the defence. Kirby curled a first‑time chip over Lindahl, who got two hands on the ball but could only push it over her head and into the net.
Ecstasy. Records tumbled, emotions raged and hearts burst as England, with a first international goal from Chloe Kelly, defeated the eight-time champions Germany to secure a first major trophy for the Lionesses – and England’s first since 1966.
Ella Toone’s stunning second-half chip over Merle Frohms looked to have been enough but Lina Magull’s 79th‑minute strike forced extra time. With penalties looming ominously, Kelly pounced, turning in from close range to steal the headlines after battling back from an anterior cruciate ligament injury that ended her Olympic dream and threatened her European one. Whipping her shirt off in celebration, replicating the historic image of the USA forward Brandi Chastain in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final that helped the game explode in the US, Kelly pointed to the revolution that the Lionesses have kickstarted in England.
From there, buoyed by the goal and the raucous crowd, England pushed to put on a show and seal the deal. It was gutsy, exhausting and exhilarating, tears flowed and England brought it home.