England turn on style to rout Sweden and reach Women’s Euro 2022 final

Beth Mead’s superb strike gave England a half-time lead before second-half goals from Lucy Bronze, Alessia Russo and Fran Kirby sank Sweden 4-0

The Lionesses roared into a first major tournament final since 2009 with a scintillating 4-0 unpicking of Europe’s highest-ranked team, Sweden.

England had not reached a major final since their 6-2 defeat by Germany in Helsinki at Euro 2009 and this team’s terrier-like midfield trio of Fran Kirby, Georgia Stanway and Keira Walsh took half an hour before they worked out how to shrug off some physical and snappy Sweden marking which kept the crowd of 28,624 on edge. But Beth Mead’s sixth goal of the tournament lifted the pressure of the occasion before a Lucy Bronze header, an outrageous backheel from Alessia Russo and a Kirby chip booked the team a place in Sunday’s final at Wembley in style.

Sweden fans had been waiting expectantly for their players to click at this European Championship. Bar a 5-0 drubbing of Portugal, the team that was called up in place of Russia, the Scandinavian side had looked a shadow of the team that humbled England in the bronze-medal match at the World Cup in 2019 and were a penalty kick away from Olympic gold in Tokyo last summer.

But anyone writing off Sweden would have been naive to do so. Because while they have not looked at their best, Sweden’s rare struggles in recent years have come against teams that have sat back. A 92nd-minute winner against Belgium spared them an embarrassing quarter-final exit to relative European minnows – but in England, they were handed a semi-final opponent far better suited to the way they play.

“We’re going to leave everything on the pitch, every drop of sweat,” warned the returning Kosovare Asllani, who had recovered from Covid. “England have played some fantastic football in this tournament so far but at the same time we feel like that it is a game that will suit us. We’re very well prepared.”

England’s goalkeeper Mary Earps and Millie Bright celebrate England’s victory on a rousing night at Bramall Lane.
Mary Earps and Millie Bright celebrate England’s victory on a rousing night at Bramall Lane. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Asllani brimmed with indignant confidence at questions that she might not be fit and ready for the fight at Bramall Lane, a home ground for England but a familiar one for Sweden too, with the side having played two group games there. That indignation spilled on to the pitch, the influential midfielder engaged in a physical and fiery battle with the scorer of England’s extra-time winner against Spain, Stanway.

It was a nervy start for England, against a side so convinced of success that they had a tactical breakdown of how to beat them sewn into the labels on their shirts and a banner that read “See you at Wembley” which stretched across the stands in the quarter-final and semi-final.

Just 20 seconds into the game and the Lionesses were in trouble. Stanway was dispossessed in midfield by Fridalina Rolfö. She combined with Sofia Jakobsson who evaded Millie Bright and struck across goal but Mary Earps reacted quickly and her left foot pushed the ball away.

It was a frantic and physical start from Sweden and England struggled to find any rhythm. The host nation could not handle the combination of Barcelona’s Rolfö and Arsenal’s Stina Blackstenius on the right, with Bronze, so used to swaggering forward, being beaten time and time again by the pair. Bronze had warned of the threat of Rolfö, who plays at left- back for Barça but has been used further forward at the Euros, saying that they are “not always the nicest wingers to play up against when they actually know how to defend properly”.

England were not without chances, a lovely crossfield ball to the far post was met by Mead in the fifth minute only for the forward to skim the header wide, but the threat from Sweden was ever-present. If there is one thing Sweden allow their opponents though, it is space and the more England got the more settled the players in white looked. In the 36th minute they took the lead decidedly against the run of play. A cross from Lauren Hemp evaded Ellen White in the middle but Bronze kept the move alive and fed it back to the unmarked Mead who swivelled and hammered the bouncing ball past Hedvig Lindahl despite the keeper getting a hand to the ball.

The impact was instant. It was as if a cloak of fear had been lifted off the players by the force of the ball hitting the back of the net and the roof-raising celebrations.

England were in the ascendancy. Within three minutes of the restart they had doubled their lead, this time very much with the run of play. Mead swung a corner towards the far post from the left and an unmarked Bronze, atoning for her earlier shakiness, powered a header downwards and it flew between the legs of White before sweeping in beyond Lindahl.

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The England players had said they always believed they would come back against Spain, that they felt calm amid the angst of the crowd and fans glued to TVs across the country. Against Sweden they had found a way through far earlier and the swagger of the group stage began to course through their veins.

Super-sub Russo was welcomed into the fray by the jubilant crowd and within 11 minutes she had scored her fourth goal in five substitute appearances. It was utterly audacious. Kirby squared to the Manchester United forward and her effort was saved by Lindahl, but Russo latched on to the rebound, was forced wide and sent a neat backheel through the legs of the outwitted Lindahl and in.

With 13 minutes left on the clock Kirby turned it into a rout, attempting to send a chip over Lindahl, which the keeper got two hands behind – but that only slowed the ball on its way into the net.

England – who have scored 104 goals in 19 games under Sarina Wiegman – will play the winner of the second semi-final between Germany and France, which takes place on Wednesday night.


Suzanne Wrack at Bramall Lane

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