Last time the England women’s national team reached a European Championship final in 2009, they were massive underdogs. After finishing third in their group but navigating the knockout stages well, they were 2-0 down to Germany with just 22 minutes on the clock in a final that finished 6-2 and gave their old foe a seventh continental title.
On Sunday, after 13 years away, the Lionesses are back in a major tournament final. Their opponents? Germany.
It's a full circle journey for a team that has experienced quite a transformation since 2009. Even since these two last met at Wembley Stadium, in a friendly in November 2019 that ended 2-1 to Germany, things have altered dramatically.
The progress has been so great that some will even call England the favourites to win on Sunday. That’s remarkable considering that, until 2015, they had never even beaten Germany.
“It’s like night and day really,” Jill Scott said, asked about the differences between Sunday’s game and the Euro 2009 final. She is the only member of this summer’s squad who was involved in the tournament in Finland.
Since then, it’s been what Scott describes as a “process” to close the gap. Step-by-step, England has established itself as one of the leading nations in women’s football. The first big step came just before that tournament, when central contracts of £16,000 (€19,000/$19,400) were introduced and given to 17 players.
“The FA is really focused on the women's team,” Scott explained. “They invested a lot of money in the [Women’s Super League]. I know I keep using the word process, but that's what it's been to get to this level.
“I think we have the best league in the world really, when you look at the competitiveness and the players that we have over here now. The [foreign] players that have come in over the years, it's been great [to have] different experiences, and then it's the younger players learning from those players as well.Getty/GOAL
“There's been a lot of investment in the league. The crowds are getting better, the standard is getting better. The league seems to always go down to the wire, which is fantastic, whereas in the past, it was probably a foregone conclusion going into some games. You knew what the results were going to be and they might be high scoring.
“Now, every single game is competitive, every single game is quite close as well. [The foreign players] have had a good influence and we want the best players in the league. The girls want to be playing against the best players every single week so that they can improve.
“Maybe in the past, sometimes you played club football and then when you went to internationals, it was such a big jump. But I think now we're definitely bridging that gap to have the highest level every weekend so that when we go away with England, then we're already at that level.”
Those in Germany are well aware of that progress, too. When head coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg was asked if it was possible to compare 2019’s friendly at Wembley to Sunday’s final, she said no.
“England is three years more mature now,” she explained. “And I know that Sarina [Wiegman] is an incredible coach. We know each other’s strengths. It’s about small details, forcing certain things, making fewer mistakes.
“We know what to expect so we will be ready. We both have high respect of each other. Sarina has shown what it takes to win a European title - and we hope it stays at one title!”
The gap closing between these two teams is not all down to progress in England, though. Germany might be eight-time European champions but, after leading the way in the women’s game for many years, things have stalled and others have caught up.Getty
"German clubs and the DFB are also under pressure when you look at the developments in other countries,” Bayern Munich midfielder Lina Magull, scorer of two goals in this tournament, said in an interview with GOAL and SPOX earlier this year. “That's why I think it has a small impact to speak out about it on a regular basis."
“We want more equality of talents,” Voss-Tecklenburg said on Saturday, when asked by GOAL what impact she hopes this tournament has at home. “[We want] better stadia, we want more spectators, we want more TV time, different kick-off times, a more attractive league - we want to make the next steps and I hope the sport in general will have a bigger importance in schools and education and politics.
“It's not just an event that’s here and everybody is happy about it. Something has to continue. There has to be the chance for countries to make the next steps in women's football. If not now, when will it happen?”
After beating France in the semi-finals, women’s football was on the front cover of Kicker, Germany’s biggest football magazine, for the first time. This weekend, there will be public screenings of the final across the country as this team goes in search of a ninth European title.
They might be the most successful nation in this competition, but this is the final that feels like it could have the biggest impact on the German domestic game.
With the quality that has been on show from these two sides this summer, both deserve to generate mass change regardless of Sunday’s result.
Whoever lifts the trophy come full-time will also be an incredibly worthy winner.