by Dom Smith
England were already one of the favourites at Euro 2022. The host nation came into the tournament in impeccable form. In their extraordinary hammering of Norway in Brighton on Monday, they laid down a gauntlet, reminding everyone that they are just that: one of the favourites. Perhaps they should now be considered the favourites. Here’s five reasons why they might just win the thing…Embed from Getty Images
1. — Beth Mead
Beth Mead was left out of the Team GB squad that travelled to Tokyo 2020 last summer for the delayed Olympic Games. Manager Hege Riise told the media that her report card (which tracks a player’s club form) just hadn’t been up to scratch. I still remember the moment she said that. Everyone in that press conference was stunned that she’d been so scathing.
Well, just look at Mead now. Since hearing that — and since Sarina Wiegman has replaced interim coach Riise as England manager — she’s been in sparkling form. This season she beat Jimmy Greaves’s long-time record for the most goals scored by an England international in a single campaign. She’s since obliterated it. 18 goals in 16 games, she has under Wiegman. A phenomenal wide forward with a striker’s appetite for poaching in and around the box.
Phil Neville by no means got everything right during his reign as manager of the Lionesses, but he was at least wise to Mead’s raw quality and made her a staple part of his team. That ability is no longer ‘raw’. She’s comfortably world-class, leads the race for the Euro 2022 Golden Boot, and could inspire England to the trophy.Embed from Getty Images
2. — Squad depth
And when Mead isn’t on the pitch, England are still blessed for attacking talent. Ella Toone, Ellen White, Alessia Russo, Beth England, Fran Kirby, Nikita Parris, Chloe Kelly and the dazzling Lauren Hemp can all play their part in however many minutes manager Wiegman affords them. Many already have, in the first two games.
That’s just the attack. Jill Scott is an excellent player who can shore up the midfield late on in matches thanks to her wealth of international experience. At full-back, too, England have great options. Lucy Bronze is one of the world’s best defenders, and Rachel Daly has been defensively astute in her unfavoured left-back position so far (though she continues to say she’s happy to play anywhere — and she’s the sort of positive personality who probably is).
Alex Greenwood, Demi Stokes and Jess Carter offer superb cover. Greenwood, recall, was FWA Player of the Season and can play brilliantly in centre-back as well as on the left.Embed from Getty Images
3. — Huge crowds and home advantage
Every England game is a sell-out. Though England were somewhat stifled by Austria and not afforded their usual number of chances, the Lionesses were still given a raucous reception in their Old Trafford opener. And at The Amex on Monday? Well, let’s just say the football did the talking and the crowd responded by doing the shouting. It was boisterous, bouncing, and delirious.
If this England find themselves in a difficult position in the knockout stages, the impact of a packed home crowd cannot be understated. That reverberating racket might prove the spark that encourages, say, an England defender to pass forward rather than sideways. And that, in turn, could bring England a vital goal at a pivotal time in a crucial match.
Home advantage is called an advantage for a reason. England can count on their fans.Embed from Getty Images
4. — Sarina Wiegman
The England manager has done it before. That already bodes well. She knows how to navigate a home tournament and the immeasurable pressure that comes with it. The Netherlands won Euro 2017 on home soil, led by Wiegman who won 99 caps for the country between 1987 and 2001.
Now she’s tasked with delivering the same success to England, still yet to win a major tournament. Since Wiegman took on the role, England are unbeaten. Yes, there have been some stupidly easy matches — such as the 20–0 win over Latvia and a flurry of 10–0s as well — but there have also been some very testing matches. England earned creditable draws against Canada and Spain at the Arnold Clark Cup in February before beating Germany, beat Austria and thrashed Northern Ireland in World Cup qualifying, and battered Wiegman’s nation the Netherlands at Elland Road in a scarcely believable pre-tournament friendly. They’ve seen off Switzerland and Belgium under her watch too.
The Lionesses have scored 93 goals and conceded just three in her 16 matches in charge. Ridiculous. She’s one of the best managers in the world, and her impact on this team has been outstanding.Embed from Getty Images
5. — Goals, goals, goals, goals, goals
Just look at the stat in the previous paragraph. England give up too many chances to opponents, that’s true, but they’re one of those thrilling sides to watch who almost always manage to outscore opponents even when they do concede.
They don’t concede very often. You’d assume they might well start to concede as they move into the latter stages of this competition, but they are currently the most potent national team on the planet. If any team in this tournament looks capable of shipping three or four goals and still ending up on the right side of victory, it’s England. Squad depth comes into that. What riches England have up front. What goals they have in them.