UEFA Women’s Euro 2022: England vs Germany

For all the talk of Gareth Southgate, Harry Kane, Phil Foden et al, there was a tinge of irony amidst the glory as Sarina Wiegmann and her heroic pride of Lionesses finally ended the nation’s wait for footballing immortality.

On the eve of the men’s World Cup in Qatar, what better time to look back at that glorious, historic day in July when – in front of a record crowd for a women’s game in England – football did, indeed, come home. Unheralded but yet inspirational to millions, England’s Women team won the European Championship on home turf for the first piece of silverware by an England senior team since that day in 1966.

I had attended three games during the tournament – Norway versus Northern Ireland in Southampton and two of England’s matches at Brighton – the astonishing 8-0 against Norway and the 2-1 extra-time triumph over the Spaniards as belief and momentum began to grow.

Unbeknownest to me, anyone in attendance at any game at either St Mary’s or The Amex entered a prize draw to win free tickets to the final: an unbelievable occasion no matter the teams involved but England vs Germany? At Wembley? For free? Quite simply, a once in a lifetime experience. As you have probably already worked out by now, I was lucky enough to be there.

I was on my way to the aforemention quarter-final when I got the phone call I was one of the lucky winners – so at that stage, although an England vs Germany final was widely predicted, it was far from certain.

The dream final duly materialised and my rugby-mad brother in law, merely only a casual footy fan, needed no persuasion at all to be my guest of honour up in the gods at Wembley. Favourites England, the home nation riding the crest of a wave and unbeaten under the elite management of Wiegmann, versus Germany. The eight-time winners with a flawless 100% record in European Championship finals. For Wiegmann, England’s Dutch coach appointed in 2021, her tenure had been building inexorably towards this moment. She had won the last tournament when in charge of her native Netherlands and was striving to become the first manager to ever win back-to-back Euros with two different countries.

The showpiece final was billed as a deserving denouement to a record-breaking competition between the two best sides in the competition. The biggest crowd in the history of a men or women’s Euros, 87,192, were certainly given their money’s worth.

Perhaps England’s destiny was just meant to be: the Germans talismanic striker and top scorer, hotshot Alexandra Popp, was ruled out of the match having picked up an injury moments before kick-off. Despite that setback, Germany were made of stern stuff and managed to recover from substitute Ella Toone’s opener to equalise though Lina Magull and set up a frantic finale.

That paved the way for extra-time with the dreaded ‘p’ word at the forefront of everyone’s minds. After all, we know how it usually ends when England face the Germans penalty prowess from twelve yards…

But there was to be a final, golden-tinged twist in the topsy turvy tale ten minutes from time. Substitute Chloe Kelly, two months on from her return after an ACL injury, poked home from a corner to spark wild celebrations as Wembley erupted.

Kelly waited for confirmation of the goal as she took off her shirt and whirled it around her head, while being lifted by her team-mates in iconic scenes which will be replayed for years.

That knocked the stuffing out of the Germans as Wiegmann’s England managed the game superbly, counting down the clock by keeping the ball in the corner and winning fouls and set pieces.

The scenes were starkly contrasting at full-time: with tears of joy and jubilation from the heroic Lionesses and even the usually stony faced and stoic Wiegmann. The Germans, beaten in a European final for the first time, did not linger long on one of the greatest nights in English sport.

Captain Leah Williamson raised the trophy into the air against the backdrop of signature soundtrack ‘Sweet Caroline’ as English finally scratched their 56-year itch – and how sweet, how very, very sweet, it was.

What an unbelievable day at Wembley, roaring the Lionesses on to Euro glory on a night when history was rewritten.

Over to the men now…