Sports FOOTBALL Fearless England is ready to take the last step...

Fearless England is ready to take the last step on a long road to glory


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Sarina Wigman said her players have reached the point where they are “not afraid of anyone” ahead of the showdown between England and Germany in the Euro final.

“When you reach the final, you become one of the best teams in the tournament,” said the manager. “I think we have a very good team. We are not afraid of anyone.

“We had a lot of tests. We did well. The group stage was relatively easy – it looks easy, but it’s never easy. The game against Spain was tight and close; Sweden looked a little easier, but we had difficult moments and moments where we dominated, and here we are now.

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It took a long time for England to reach the final of a major tournament. The Lionesses last reached the Euro final in 2009, losing to Germany 6-2. It was Germany’s seventh of eight European titles and England needed to seriously catch up. Thirteen years later, England reach the final against Germany with a realistic chance of breaking their opponents’ 100 per cent record in the Euro finals.

The pace of change accelerated in 2017 when FA Women’s Football Association director Sue Campbell and then chief executive Martin Glenn stood in Bobby Moore’s room at Wembley Stadium and unveiled an ambitious road map for women’s football. football. For the first time since a nearly 50-year ban on women’s football at all association-affiliated stadiums, the FA has apologized for damaging the women’s game.

Yes, the ban was lifted in 1970, and yes, the FA took over women’s football from the independent Women’s FA in 1993, but support was limited, gradual.

Team Great Britain’s success at the 2012 Olympics and England’s surprise advance to the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup helped those asking for a few more crumbs off the table get a small piece of the pie.

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Five years ago, the FA made even more commitments: to double participation in women’s football, double the audience to play, improve the path for players and take England to the final of a major tournament.

The plan was clear: The Lionesses would be competitive for Euro 2021 (which was postponed to this year due to Covid) and the 2023 World Cup. Reaching the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup did not come as a surprise; the infrastructure was not considered sufficiently developed for this tournament.

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“It sounds a little jargon, but building a high-performance system takes time,” said Campbell. “We have great players with a lot of passion, a lot of commitment, a lot of effort, but really building a world class support system means you have to have all the stuff like fitness or sports psychology or analysis and they have to be in place. at the right level. It takes time to create such teams.”

The strategy is bearing fruit, and then some. “So much of what we wanted to see and articulate in this strategy is now being implemented,” said Campbell. A new plan has been drawn up and the FA is accelerating the game at pace.

It’s impossible to describe the potential impact of winning a home Euro, but going into the final with a smug exit, winning or losing, they changed the status of the game, themselves, and attitudes towards women and their participation. in sports in general. England captain Lea Williamson highlighted this on Saturday when she said the tournament brought “a change not only to women’s football but to society as a whole”.

The path of the Lionesses to this final was a long one.

In 2009, 17 players received their first central contracts, while another five became full-fledged professionals in the United States. The central contracts were worth £16,000 each per annum for four years.

According to Baroness Sue Campbell, the appointment of Sarina Wigman as head coach was “the final piece of the puzzle.” Photograph: Nigel French/PA.

On Sunday, the Lionesses line up for £55,000 bonuses if they win. Their faces are seen from billboards and advertisements all over the country. In 2009, only the semi-final and final were broadcast; this time the tournament received full BBC coverage with every game shown.

If England win on Sunday, it will not only be a triumph for the players and coaching staff, but also a triumph for investment and support.

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However, in the likable Wigman, they have “the final piece of the puzzle,” Campbell said. “The coaches before Sarina have done a good job of developing the game by increasing the visibility of the women’s game, but she is without a doubt one of the most outstanding coaches I have ever worked with and she definitely brought a whole different level of collaboration, teamwork. tactical awareness, calmness and clarity of purpose.

“She is without a doubt the last piece of the puzzle. When you build a high performance system, it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. It doesn’t happen all at once – you have to do it gradually. She is the last piece for me, and her presence brought it all together in a way that perhaps we didn’t realize until we got it.”

Wigman has been successful both on and off the field. The audacity of Alessia Russo’s heel goal against Sweden was symptomatic of the atmosphere in which the team plays for fun, for each other and without fear. This is an exciting sight.

For Williamson, enjoying the moment will be just as important as trying to block it and focus on the game. “There were times in my career when even when I won, I felt like I lost because I didn’t enjoy this moment,” she said. “The environment we created allowed us to enjoy it and soak it all up with the fans.

“I always said, ‘Why don’t we enjoy it?’ We’ve worked so hard, but there’s that focus and composure that’s more needed before the final.”

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