England Showed Courage — Now They’re European Champions

by Dom Smith

These are the moments you hope you live to see. So live them. Live them to the max. This was a dogfight, a long hard slog which teetered this way and that. That’s why Jill Scott came off the bench at age 35, into her third decade as an England international. England needed to regain their control in the second half at Wembley. The Germans — as they always seem to — had grown into the contest and grown in confidence.

England knew they were in a game and a half when Lucy Bronze blocked an early shot with her head and when Mary Earps had to drop onto the ball as it ricocheted around from a corner. But the crowd held belief throughout. The 87,000-strong crowd. The biggest crowd a men’s or women’s Euros has ever seen. The crowd of red and white and and sweat and hope and nails bitten to the quick.

Never before have an England team, men’s or women’s, so strongly deserved to win a tournament. No team have ever scored more in a women’s Euros than the Lionesses did this summer. 22 in 2022 for England. Home advantage, sure. But they also conceded just twice in six matches. Perform well in both attack and defence, and you might just come out on the right side of luck.

And so England did. The luck was on their side late on in a gruelling period of extra-time. Another corner, but England’s this time. And the luck — just as when the ball had fallen for Earps in the first half — was England’s too. Chloe Kelly off the bench to score the golden goal for England. A toe-punt winner at the second time of asking. Off into delirium she sprinted. Shirt off. Grin on.

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More records tumbled for England. Sarina Wiegman named the same lineup in all six matches — the first manager to do so in Euros history, men’s or women’s. England started well. And when the starters needed support from the finishers, Wiegman made decisive changes. Ella Toone ran free from a wonderful Keira Walsh through-ball. She chipped the goalkeeper Merle Frohms with a superb finish, before celebrating with the same crackpot ecstasy that she used in the week to take the mick of her best mate Alessa Russo, who’d celebrated her nonchalant Sweden backheel goal in the previous round in just the same way.

This time Toone meant it. She’d given England a second half lead. But Germany hauled themselves back into the ascendency and then back into the match with Lina Magull’s well-worked equaliser.

England wobbled. They seemed under the cosh for once. This wasn’t in the script.

But Germany know better than anyone that finals don’t have scripts. They have two teams, and everything else is up for grabs. All of England’s hard yet breathless work over the last few weeks had brought them here. Was there more ABBA to be sung in the dressing room?

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No. Instead there was Sweet Caroline to sing — the new anthem of modern England. Wiegman’s England, but also Gareth Southgate’s. Kelly bundled home. The fans simply bundled.

At moments it’s felt like this has been Ella Toone’s summer and we’ve all simply been living in it. The 22-year-old has had a tournament she’ll never ever forget. None of England’s Lionesses will forget this.

Trying to muster whatever words she could amid the full-time celebrations, she said: “I’m absolutely buzzing my head off. The best moment of my life and the best moment of my career. It’s come home!”

And at long, long, long last, it had.

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