Wed, 27 July 2022 at 12:50 pm
That dream is now just one win from becoming a reality and, on the evidence of last night, England should not fear facing either Germany or France in Sunday’s final at Wembley.
This was an emphatic win, delivered by the Lionesses when the pressure was at its highest, as they banished three straight semi-final defeats at major tournaments.
A world-class finish from Beth Mead set England on their way, before a header from Lucy Bronze, Alessia Russo’s incredible back-heel and a long-range lob from Fran Kirby sealed a spot at a sold-out Wembley in style.
Russo’s goal summed up this England team, who with every game they play under Sarina Wiegman are becoming more and more like their Dutch head coach: calm, calculated and ruthless.
In Pictures | Women’s Euro 2022 (Semi-Final): England vs Sweden – Lionesses celebrate victory
After missing a cut-back, Russo could easily have panicked, but she kept her cool with a back-heel that went through the legs of embarrassed Sweden goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl.
“Is this real? Someone pinch me,” said Alex Scott, working as a pundit for the BBC, during the celebrations in front of 28,624 at Bramall Lane. “It’s hard not to get emotional.”
Scott was in the last England squad to reach a major final, at Euro 2009. On that occasion they lost against Germany, but this Lionesses side look ready to go all the way, after what is probably the biggest night in the history of the England women’s team.
The pressure on England to deliver on home soil has been huge. That perhaps explains their shaky start against Sweden, who dominated early on. But England never looked back after Mead’s opener after 34 minutes.
Wiegman has trained this side to be ruthless and what followed after the first goal was a perfect execution of that. England teams of old may have opted to try to hold onto a 1-0 lead, but not this one. Instead, they went for the kill.
Throughout this tournament there have always been nagging questions about England, despite their steady progress under Wiegman.
After cruising through the group stage with three wins and 14 unanswered goals, it was argued they had not been truly tested. Against Spain, in the quarters, they were outplayed for long periods and needed a late equaliser before eventually winning in extra-time.
Following this win over Sweden, the second highest-ranked team in the world behind only the United States, the questions should stop.
This England side are as good as the hype around them and on Sunday they will have the chance to prove it in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley.
“We said we’re ready to write history,” said Wiegman. “We said before the tournament and throughout that we want to inspire the nation. That’s what we’re doing and making a difference.”
Wembley will have felt a long way away early on in this semi-final, though, as England had to ride their luck in the opening 30 minutes.
The Swedes could have scored within 30 seconds, but Mary Earps was alert to deny Stina Blackstenius and then the woodwork came to England’s aid shortly after.
Sweden made all the early running, but their failure to build on their dominance proved defining. Wiegman will not have been comfortable with England conceding so many chances, but their rope-a-dope tactic left Sweden emotionally and physically exhausted after creating so much but gaining nothing.
The Lionesses, in contrast, were ruthless. When Mead scored, it was the first time the team really clicked in attack, and the way she controlled Bronze’s first-time cross, before spinning and finding the bottom corner, underlines why she should win the Golden Boot.
Her six goals so far mean she is two clear of Russo and Germany star Alexandra Popp, who could add to her account in the second semi-final, in Milton Keynes this evening.
From the moment England went ahead, the momentum never looked like shifting back to Sweden.
Under Wiegman, the Lionesses have developed a trend of not letting their foot off the gas when in the groove
Under Wiegman, the Lionesses have developed a trend of not letting their foot off the gas when in the groove. It was the case against Norway when they ran out 8-0 winners and it was a similar story last night.
Captain Leah Williamson describes it as feeling like everything you touch turns to gold and that was certainly the case with Russo’s goal.
During Wiegman’s 19 games in charge, England have won 17, drawn two and scored 104 goals. They have been transformed from perennial semi-finalists to finalists and, on Sunday, they can complete the journey to becoming winners. The stage is set and England look ready to deliver.