England are no strangers to the semi-finals of major tournaments, but taking that final step has proved elusive in recent years.
Tonight is England’s fourth semi-final in a row, but they have fallen short in each of their last three.
Against Sweden tonight, they will be hoping to end that run and book a place in Sunday’s Euro 2022 final at Wembley.
The odds seem in their favor to do so. Sweden may be ranked higher than England, but they have failed to hit top gear so far this tournament and needed a late goal to beat Belgium in the quarter-finals.
England, by contrast, are in good form, scoring a record 14 goals in the group stage and their unbeaten run under Serena Wegman now stretches to 18 games. They also have the benefit of being cheered on by around 30,000 fans at Burmall Lane tonight.
“I hope they (the fans) are going to bring us a lot of energy again,” Wegman said.
“We’ll do it ourselves, but it was really an extra thing and an extra dimension that we got in our last games. It’s really exciting and we’re going to make them proud again.
England’s biggest weapon, however, is Wiegman himself. When it comes to sports like this, she’s been there, done that, won the trophy.
In 2017, when the Netherlands hosted the Euros, he led them all the way, beating England in the semi-finals. Two years later he led the Dutch to the World Cup final, where they lost to the United States.
Wegman’s ability to turn England from perennial semi-finalists to winners is a big reason why the Football Association hired him and tonight is his moment to deliver.
“She’s been there and done that. She’s been to finals, she’s won big finals,” Fran Kirby said.
“So she’s the best person for us to go through and do that. I think she’ll come with a lot of experience and advice, and she’s already led in this tournament.
“I think for her it’s a case of what’s normal for her, because obviously she’s been with a few people. [finals] now. I’m sure we’ll rely on that quite a bit to get us through.
All the talk this week has been about added pressure and semi-final curses, but inside the England camp it has been business as usual. Wegman’s has created a relaxed and calm atmosphere – and it remains so today.
After Wednesday’s quarter-final win over Spain, England’s players had a day off on Thursday and some took a boat trip up the Thames. On Friday, the squad and staff all indulged in a light-hearted game of ‘Fox Hunt’.
Preparations ramped up on Saturday but training remained relaxed, with head tennis, dodgeball, volleyball, walking football and footgolf all on the agenda. Players were in teams and there was a points system to keep it competitive.
“Everybody knows what we have to do, everybody is really working on the job. It’s really comfortable,” Wegman said.
England stepped up their preparations on Sunday as all eyes turned to Sweden. Wegmann has told his squad to forget past semi-finals and that seems wise, not least because they ended in failure but because of the fact that tonight’s game is now theirs. is the largest of
It promises to be a very different match to England’s quarter-final against Spain last week.
The Lionesses have had to cope without much of the ball on occasion, but Sweden will at times be happy to concede possession and try to hit England on the counter.
They have yet to click in this tournament, but it speaks to their quality that they still made it to the semi-finals. He has the skills to deliver when it counts and just a year ago he made the final of the Olympic Games.
As always, England’s best chance of success will come from getting their wide players, Beth Meade and Lauren Hamp, into the game, but beyond that the bench will again be key.
The quarter-final against Spain showed how England’s substitutes can be match-winners and no other country has such strength.
In that Spain game, Ella Toon came off the bench to be England’s savior.
The same could easily happen again tonight, with any of Wiegman’s squad getting a chance to become national heroes.