Four years ago today it all stopped. The nation held its breath for seven minutes on a Tuesday night. In the Russian capital, Eric Dier took on Colombian David Ospina. A kick to make history. As we all remember, Tottenham’s midfielder transformed and sent England to their first World Cup quarter-finals in 12 years. In a pre-Covid world, the Three Lions’ success was one of the most memorable summers in recent years.
Four years later, the soccer fanatic’s inner clock is feeling wrong. The sun goes down late, the pub gardens lift and the club season is over. The time has come for international football. Forty-seven months have passed since the last World Cup final. But for the first time since World War II, the football world is being told to wait any longer. Due to the extreme heat in this year’s host country Qatar, the World Cup will take place in winter, adding an additional five months to the gap between tournaments.
“The Women’s Championship has a rare opportunity to fill the great vacuum left by the Men’s World Cup”
Join us, Euro 2022. This summer, under special circumstances, we are organizing a women’s competition instead of the men’s competition. Better yet, it’s right on our doorstep. Yes, the 2022 edition of the European Women’s Championship will be hosted by England. In the past, the men’s and women’s tournaments were held alternately, with the men’s tournaments taking place in even-numbered years and the women’s tournaments in odd-numbered years. However, this time, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, everything has gotten a bit out of sync. With the men’s Euro 2020, the women’s Euro 2021 was pushed forward by one year.
The Women’s Championship has a rare opportunity to fill the huge vacuum left by the Men’s World Cup. As the nation clamors for its four-year dose of international football and denounces the FIFA machine for spoiling their summer, the solution stares us in the face. The stars point to what could be a spectacular summer, this time with our lionesses.
A possibility all the more likely given the history of the English. Since the turn of the century, the Lionesses have surpassed the Three Lions, reaching three major semifinals and one final. The men, for context, only managed one each. While the factors explaining this comparable success are complex, the bottom line is that women can offer just as much excitement. All that remains is that the nation invests.
And given the talent in the squad, that shouldn’t be difficult. Sarina Wiegman has announced her group of 23, opting for a balance between experience and exciting new perspectives. Between Fran Kirby, Lucy Bronze, Jill Scott and Ellen White, the four veterans share 219 caps for England. These memorable names, which have featured in almost every major tournament in recent memory, will be shouldered by the next generation. Arsenal’s Leah Williamson, for example, takes over the captaincy after defender Steph Houghton leaves. The midfielder is highly respected as a leader having captained England U15s, U17s and U19s with whom she famously took responsibility for a crucial penalty that had to be replayed five days after it was originally converted.
“There is huge potential for the Lionesses to capture the hearts of the nation like the men did four years ago.”
20-year-old Lauren Hemp is another notable player. The winner of the 2018, 2019 and 2020 PFA Young Player of the Year Awards is downplaying the left wing and will be a crucial element in England’s attack this summer. The second youngest player in the England squad has an aura that is simply enchanting. Her good control, low center of gravity and attacking instincts make her a joy to watch.
Such exciting qualities were evident in England’s three warm-up games, the results of which bode well for the upcoming tournament: a 3-0 win over Belgium was followed by a surprising 5-1 win over the Netherlands (last tournament’s winners). Edition and World Cup finalists 2019), with the preparation being rounded off by a 4-0 demolition against Switzerland. While England’s continued pressure in their dominant display against Belgium eventually resulted in a comfortable win, the game against Sarina Wiegman’s home nation started out as a much more even affair, with the Netherlands taking the lead in the first half. But it was Lauren Hemp’s pinpoint cross to Beth Mead that opened the Dutch floodgates. The Lionesses also remained undecided against Switzerland until the 56th minute, when the English opponents collapsed under the attacking pressure.
As the past few weeks have shown, England have a ruthless side to their game. Twelve goals in three games against respectable opponents is impressive to say the least. Should they continue their form in the tournament, nothing will be out of reach. And with summer paving the way in Qatar, the lionesses have huge potential to capture the nation’s hearts just like the men did four years ago. Euro 2022 has already been identified as a tremendous opportunity for women’s football. But while the growth of women’s football has been exponential over the last decade, the focus needs to be on how far football has come and how far it still has to go if parity with men’s football is truly to be achieved.
This summer, it’s time to enjoy Women’s Euro for what it is: a showcase of talent, passion and physicality, an immersive three-week sports drama and a chance for England to actually win something for once.
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