by Dom Smith
England are on tour. From St George’s Park to Wolverhampton to St George’s Park to Leeds to St George’s Park to Switzerland to London to St George’s Park to Manchester. And that’s before the European Championships have even started.
With the squad whittled down last week from 28 to the final 23, the prospect of a home tournament zooms sharply into focus now. The Lionesses have spent nearly a month with each other now. And they’ll hope they’re with each other for well over a month more.
The Lionesses were given pitch priority at St George’s Park over Gareth Southgate’s men’s seniors during the Three Lions’ Nations League matches. The FA rightly deciding that the women’s European Championships is a bigger priority than the men’s Nations League.
Chloe Kelly is back from her horror injury and if her Molineux display against Belgium was anything to go by, she’s back in form for her country too. “The facilities here are amazing”, she told EnglandFootball.org after a morning session at St George’s Park.Embed from Getty Images
“It’s great to be here. The girls are just enjoying being back as a group and excited for the summer, and we’re all working hard for one goal.”
Her captain Leah Williamson has said that being told she will lead the Lionesses out is her proudest football to moment to date. “I love training here. I love putting on an England shirt, so it’s been great”, she said.
England head into the first tournament under Wiegman in fine fettle. The former Dutch international led her national team to victory in the last European Championships in 2017. She has brought that managerial acumen with her.
“We’ve come to new levels, and there’s new levels to come from us”, centre-back Millie Bright states. “That’s the beauty of the squad: we’re all just trying to get the best out of one another, day in, day out, and pushing our levels and testing one another. There’s so much competitiveness in training — people fighting for their positions. That’s what gets the best of one another. I know for a fact, hand on heart, that we will push each other to new levels.”
One way in which Wiegman has managed to cultivate a club mentality is by selecting a small pool of players rather than being highly reactive to peaks and troughs in players’ club form. The five players dropped from the provisional squad know that, all being well, they will return to the England team before too long.Embed from Getty Images
The ever-reflective Lotte Wubben-Moy of Arsenal sees this culture as a positive which can pay dividends for the Lionesses on the pitch during this most momentous of summers.
“I think we’ve got quite a good foundational team”, she told EnglandFootball.org. “Everyone has been competing with their clubs, performing, and if you’re good enough you’ll be called into the England squad. That showed in the players we have in the squad. We’re all competing at the highest levels, and beyond that you can’t really complain because you’re playing with and against the best players in England. That’s what you want.”
What England also want is victory tomorrow when they host the Netherlands at Elland Road. It will be special for Wiegman as it will be the first time she has faced her nation, for whom she won 99 caps as a player before managing them for five years ahead of taking the England role. Wiegman is looking forward to the game, but acknowledged the two sides are joined at the Euros by a great many teams entirely capable of lifting the silverware on Sunday 31 July.Embed from Getty Images
“I do consider them as two very good teams”, she said of England and the Netherlands. “Of course, we play a home tournament. The Netherlands has the trophy right now. But I do think that the game has developed so much that I think that many countries are favourites. It’s going to be a very strong Euros.
“We have Spain, we have France, Germany — Sweden is always up there. Norway has been good and have [Ada] Hegerberg back too. It’s very exciting to see what’s going to happen. It’s not easy to say who’s going to come through, because it’s very equal.”
England’s sternest test ahead of a home tournament already bubbling with excitement lies ahead. With a positive performance and result at Elland Road tomorrow, England can ramp up the levels of anticipation for the summer ahead even more.