After three viewings, the Bramall Lane crowd finally found its voice. Immediately after the first, a shout of joy and victory could be heard. As England’s players celebrated in the stands below, the second video garnered gasps of admiration from the crowd.
Only until over 30,000 individuals got the opportunity to see the replay did they finally understand what had transpired. It wasn’t just a backheel that Alessia Russo, the replacement striker, had scored for England. Hedvig Lindahl, Sweden’s goalie, was not the only one she had nutmegged in the process.
At a major international competition, she had done all of that and more. It was unquestionably her most significant match to date.
The audience could only respond appropriately once it had all the facts at its disposal. Laughter erupted from Bramall Lane as a group. Not in a nasty or mocking manner, but rather with a sense of surprise and awe.
In games of this significance, it is unusual for England to come out on top. It’s not like it’s doing it for the sake of having fun.
In addition to the country’s athletic psyche’s general fatalism, this squad, who defeated Sweden, the world’s No. 2 ranked team, by a score of 4-0, has its own tailored ghosts. After all, the ladies of England had advanced to the quarterfinals in their last three major events. They were a dangerous team. It was a loss against Japan at the 2015 World Cup. It was a tough defeat in the 2017 European Championships when they faced the Netherlands. A trend began to emerge when they faced off against the United States in the 2019 FIFA World Cup.
At the start of Euro 2022, England’s players knew they were under a lot of pressure to break that trend. Sarina Wiegman, the coach of the Dutch squad who shattered England’s hearts in 2017, was hired manager at a cost to the Football Association. Nearly every member of the team is a product of the thriving Women’s Super League in England.
After scoring five goals against Northern Ireland and eight against Norway in the group stage, England’s impressive performance in the tournament’s second phase fueled hopes and expectations.
For the second year in a row, the players have been asked at press conferences whether their performance might help alleviate the country’s actual worries about the high cost of petrol, the rise in the cost of basic necessities, and the government’s self-induced chaos.
Because of the convergence of circumstances, it would have been assumed that England would be inhibited as the possibility of the final, and of glory, approached. Against a weakened Spain, Wiegman’s side had difficulty. Sweden, on the other hand, posed a more daunting challenge. The Swedes have only been out of the Olympics for a year. Europe’s best team is ranked by FIFA, which is no less an authority than any other.
And for a moment, it seemed like another calvary was on the horizon. With their first onslaught, Sweden created a clear window of opportunity. Despite England’s best efforts, they were unable to keep the game alive until three outstanding saves by goalkeeper Mary Earps and a crossbar intervention.
While Wiegman’s individual brilliance is second only to the French’s in this event, the team she has built is characterised by its calmness, serenity, and unwavering faith. Even when Sweden pounded on its door and blasted its fortifications, England did not falter. It did not allow itself to be intimidated, or frightened, or worried. Rather, it was unafraid.
Beth Mead, the tournament’s all-time top scorer, snatched a half-hour-old lead for the hosts. A other team would have interpreted it as a message to relax, hunch its shoulders, and clench its teeth. Neither Wiegman nor England operate in this manner.
“As things stand, England is headed to the final,” said the stadium announcer at halftime. It had an air of arrogance about it, the kind of statement you may look back on with some remorse, but only for a short time. Lucy Bronze increased the advantage in the first four minutes of the second half, her header sliding agonisingly beyond Lindahl’s dive.
In retrospect, that objective would have sufficed, but at the time, it was not enough to be sure. It was only with Russo’s improvisational and instinctual genius that the fans and the players could relax. Fran Kirby, England’s dynamic striker, scored only a few minutes later. She, too, was playing in one of the most important contests of her professional career. She, too, was well aware of the gravity of the situation.
That didn’t stop her, though, as she lofted her shot just past Lindahl’s reach and deflected off her gloves and into the goal in the background. That’s what players do when they’re having fun, no matter what the circumstances may be.
The players remained on the field after the final whistle. They got a standing ovation from everyone in the stadium. It seemed as though they were listening to all of soccer’s greatest hits, including Dua Lipa, Dana International, and the White Stripes.
As the audience sang “Sweet Caroline,” Ellen White, the striker, had her eyes wide open and her grin almost incredulous. In spite of her reputation as an unyielding authority figure, Wiegman danced and hopped about with her teammates. Nobody wanted to let go of the good feelings that had been generated when England was in the semifinals of a big international competition.