Long road to Wembley: key reasons behind England’s run to Euros final

Before Sunday’s showpiece we look at the factors behind the team’s journey, including a tournament in Jordan six years ago

Wiegman’s arrival

The appointment of a manager of Sarina Wiegman’s pedigree has been crucial to this England team’s progression. Since arriving last autumn, she has instilled confidence in the Lionesses that has led to a 19-game unbeaten run, winning 17 and scoring 104 goals. Tactically astute and not afraid to stick to her guns, she has proven her ability to change the course of a game with a substitution. In addition, she has won this competition before, guiding her native Netherlands to the 2017 Euros title. Having the results to back up her instructions can only help in getting players on board.

Role of the squad

Depth in a tournament is crucial and England possess this in abundance. Each of the 23 play professionally with all but one playing regularly in the Women’s Super League last season – Rachel Daly plays for Houston Dash in the US’s National Women’s Soccer League. They have spent significant time on the pitch, gaining vital experience. Wiegman rarely changes her starting lineup – she has named the same 11 for every match this tournament – but her utilisation of the bench has been key. Her finishing players play an integral role, whether making an impact in front of goal or adding cover to help them see out a game.

Ella Toone (left) has been key off the bench for England as Sarina Wiegman’s finishing players have made their mark.
Ella Toone (left) has been key off the bench for England as Sarina Wiegman’s finishing players have made their mark. Photograph: Lynne Cameron/The FA/Getty Images

Strong youth pathway

England are reaping the rewards of a strong youth system. Five of the Lionesses have played together since a young age. Alessia Russo, Georgia Stanway, Ella Toone, Ellie Roebuck and Lotte Wubben-Moy reached the quarter-finals of the 2016 Under-17 World Cup in Jordan before three of the five took home a bronze medal at the 2018 Under-20s edition, joined by Chloe Kelly and Lauren Hemp. Wubben-Moy missed out on that, while Toone was injured, but these tournaments have provided crucial development opportunities. There is a DNA that flows through English football. Mo Marley, who coached both of those age-group campaigns and has had an influence on so many Lionesses’ careers, has come out of retirement to spearhed an under-23s side, and Wiegman has ensured coaches across the pathway have input.

Mo Marley (second left) was brought out of retirement to oversee England’s Under-23 side this year
Mo Marley (second left) was brought out of retirement to oversee England’s Under-23 side this year, having helped bring many of the current senior crop through. Photograph: Aitor Alcalde/The FA/Getty Images

Pandemic delay

If any team has benefited from the year delay due to Covid, it has been England. A year ago, the Lionesses were a shadow of their former selves, without a permanent manager after the departure of Phil Neville and having experienced declining results since the 2019 World Cup. The extra year, that has included competitive World Cup qualifiers, has allowed this squad to find their feet again and Wiegman to install her vision, while giving younger players an extended timeframe to bed themselves in.

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FA investment

The Football Association’s Gameplan for Growth from 2017-2020 provided strong foundations to create an environment for success. The first two targets to double participation and attendance were achieved and the goal for the success of the England team has seen them reach three successive semi-finals and now a major final in the timeframe targeted. The FA has backed women’s football, investing significantly in the Lionesses but also the domestic game. The professionalisation of the WSL, the sponsorship from companies such as Barclays, and the second-to-none support staff employed for the national side have all contributed.

Hosting this tournament

Hosting a major football competition can work both ways. It can substantially increase the pressure, particularly in a country so consumed by football. But it can also provide the vital support needed to give teams energy to get over the line. You only had to listen to the roar of the 28,994 in Brighton for the quarter-final victory over Spain to understand how much sold-out, partisan stadiums play a part. Post-match, Wiegman was keen to acknowledge how key the supporters were. “Today showed what the fans did for us,” she said. “That was really a home advantage.”


Sophie Downey

The GuardianTramp

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