“We don’t fear anyone.” Those were the words of England head coach Sarina Wiegman ahead of the Women’s Euros final, as her team prepared to come up against its old foe, the team it had lost to on so many occasions – Germany.
There are several reasons why that is the genuine truth about the Lionesses and not just some empty words. The investment in the game in England, the growth and development of it, has been massive. The exposure to the highest level and the fact they’ve been so many top teams is another factor.
But among the biggest reasons has been the woman who uttered those words herself – Wiegman, the coach that, on Sunday evening, led England’s women’s team to its first ever major title. She’s now coached this side 20 times since she took over. She’s yet to taste defeat.
The old saying is that Germany always win. Often, that is true. They’ve won the Women’s Euros eight times, the World Cup twice and clubs representing the nation have won nine Women’s Champions League titles – more than any other country.
But on this occasion, they were on the losing side of a final, Chloe Kelly stabbing the ball into the back of the net after an extra time goalmouth scramble in front of a raucous but nervous Wembley crowd – the attendance of 87,192 a new record for the competition.
That it was Kelly who scores the goal was fitting in a way. The Manchester City winger has been one of Wiegman’s ‘super subs’ throughout the summer, the Dutchwoman becoming the first coach in history to name an unchanged team for every single game in a Women’s Euros despite numerous calls for her to make changes.Getty
That’s because of how effective those players off the bench, like Kelly, have been. Ella Toone scored England’s first goal on Sunday, a lovely finish lifted over the onrushing Merle Frohms that initially gave the hosts the lead. She has been outstanding this summer – as has Alessia Russo, the go-to sub for starting No.9 Ellen White scoring twice as many goals as her team-mate in the tournament.
But this is what Wiegman did in 2017, when she won the Euros with the Netherlands. This is what she did in 2019, when she reached the World Cup final with her native country. It works and it worked again this time.
That consistency and rhythm was crucial to this triumphant success – but she wasn’t brought in by the Football Association because she plays the same XI a lot. What Wiegman has brought to this team has made a difference – it’s won them a major trophy.
She’s calm. She’s composed. She gives the players belief but she doesn’t let the highs be too high.
“Sarina has been brilliant,” Jill Scott, the midfielder who became the first England player to play in two major tournament finals on Sunday, having featured in the 2009 Euros defeat to Germany, said earlier this week.
“She’s an incredible woman. She’s very logical. She doesn’t allow us to overthink and keeps everything to the task and keeps us focused. I don’t think she realises how good she is actually!Getty
“She is so calm on the side and she knows what we need to do to win. She is the driving force behind the reasons the team is in the final.”
England needed all of that this summer. The hysteria around the team has been incredible. The support of the nation beyond anything these players have experienced before.
They’d never been in this moment. Scott was the only one to play in a Euros final, but even that was a world away from this. It was at Wembley. It was a sold-out crowd. It was huge.
Yet, in the build-up to this game, there was such a relaxed feeling.
“None of us have been in this position before,” Leah Williamson, the England captain, said before the game. “The opportunity I've had for growth in this tournament has given me confidence. I think I'll be ready for whatever emotions come my way tomorrow."
At full-time, she was in tears – as were so many of her team-mates. They made history. They did it on the biggest stage, amid the highest pressure.
They changed women’s football forever this summer off the pitch, but they also became immortal on it. They brought football home.