England strike in style to beat Sweden to reach Women’s Euro 2022 final

The Lionesses cruised into their first major tournament final since 2009 with a brilliant 4-0 drubbing of Europe’s top-ranked Sweden.

England had not reached a major final since their 6-2 defeat by Germany in Helsinki at Euro 2009 and that team’s terrier-like midfield trio of Fran Kirby, Georgia Stanway and Keira Walsh , it took half an hour before I knew how to avoid some of them. Physical and nimble marking from Sweden that kept the crowd of 28,624 at bay. But Beth Mead’s sixth goal of the tournament lifted the pressure of the occasion before a Lucy Bronze header, an outrageous backheel from Alessia Russo and a chip from Kirby booked the team a place in the final of Sunday at Wembley in style.

Sweden fans had been eagerly waiting for their players to click in this European Championship. Apart from a 5-0 thrashing of Russia’s substitute Portugal, the Scandinavian side had looked a shadow of the team that humiliated England in the bronze medal match at the 2019 World Cup and it was a penalty. away from Olympic gold in Tokyo last summer.

But anyone who would rule out Sweden would be naive to do so. Because while they haven’t seen their best, Sweden’s rare struggles in recent years have come against teams that have sat back. A 92nd-minute winner against Belgium spared them an embarrassing quarter-final exit against a European pair, but in England, they received a semi-final opponent much more suited to their style of play.

“We will leave everything on the pitch, every drop of sweat,” warned returnee Kosovare Asllani, who had recovered from Covid. “England have played some fantastic football in this tournament so far, but at the same time we feel it’s a game we’re going to enjoy. We are very well prepared.”

Asllani brimmed with indignant confidence in the face of questions that she might not be fit and ready for the fight at Bramall Lane, a ground in England but also familiar to Sweden as the team had played two group games there. That outrage spilled onto the pitch, with the influential midfielder engaged in a physical and fiery battle with the scorer of England’s extra-time winner against Spain, Stanway.

It was a nervous start for England, against a team so confident of success that they had a tactical breakdown of how to beat them sewn into their shirt tags and a ‘See You at Wembley’ banner. which extended through the stands of the quarter-finals and semi-finals.

Mary Earps and Millie Bright celebrate England’s victory on a thrilling night at Bramall Lane. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Just 20 seconds into the game and the Lionesses were in trouble. Stanway was stripped in midfield by Fridalina Rolfö. She combined with Sofia Jakobsson, who evaded Millie Bright and struck, but Mary Earps was quick to react and put the ball away with her left foot.

It was a frantic and physical start from Sweden and England struggled to find their rhythm. The host nation couldn’t handle the combination of Barcelonista Rolfö and Arsenal’s Stina Blackstenius on the right, with Bronze, so used to getting forward, beaten time and time again by the pair. Bronze had warned of the threat of Rolfö, who plays at left-back for Barça but has been used later in the Euros, saying that “they are not always the nicest full-backs to play when they know how to defend properly”. .

England were not without chances, a lovely cross at the far post was met by Mead in the fifth minute only for the striker to head wide, but Sweden’s threat was ever present. If there’s one thing Sweden allow their opponents, though, it’s space and the more England settled, the more they looked like the whites. In the 36th minute, they made decisive progress against the run of play. Lauren Hemp’s cross eluded Ellen White down the middle but Bronze kept the play alive and fed it back to the unmarked Mead who turned and hit the ball past Hedvig Lindahl despite the keeper got a hand on the ball.

The impact was instant. It was as if a mantle of fear had been lifted from the players with the force of the ball hitting the back of the net and the celebrations raising the roof.

England were on the rise. Three minutes after the restart they had doubled their lead, this time very much with the course of the game. Mead swung a corner towards the far post from the left and an unmarked Bronze, atoning for his earlier trepidation, drove a downward header and flew between White’s legs before slotting in beyond Lindahl.

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England’s players had said they always believed they would come back against Spain, that they felt calm amid the angst of the crowd and fans glued to televisions across the country. Against Sweden they had found their way much earlier and the drag of the group stage began to run through their veins.

Super substitute Russo was welcomed into the fray by the jubilant crowd and within 11 minutes she had scored her fourth goal in five substitute appearances. It was totally audacious. Kirby squared at the Manchester United striker and his effort was saved by Lindahl, but Russo grabbed the rebound, forced himself wide and sent a neat backheel through the legs of the deluded Lindahl and in.

Alessia Russo’s back heel nutmeg Hedvig Lindahl for arguably the goal of the tournament. Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters

With 13 minutes left on the clock, Kirby turned it into a goal, attempting to send a chip over Lindahl, which the keeper got two hands on, but that only slowed the ball on its way into the net.

England, who have scored 104 goals in 19 games under Sarina Wiegman, will play the winner of the second semi-final between Germany and France on Wednesday night.

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