Those dang final four.
It feels elite.
It doesn’t feel like there’s been any shortcuts.
There’s something special in the air, and the closer that very thing we breathe gets to these four nations and the teams that represent them, the more intense it becomes.
The semi-finals are the final hurdle that you have to clear to get to the final rung that you step on the grab glory in what is the most convoluted Olympic event of all time.
Apart from dressage.
This is the chance to get the chance at victory.
Let’s rap about what happened.
ENGLAND vs. SWEDEN
There was something marvellous about that. I’m gonna need to take the night and get back to this tomorrow — see you then.
Okay. I’m back. Here we go.
This was to be a monumental clash, differing to any monumental clash that had occurred previously this tournament. The hosts had already played and dispatched the favourites, and now they were to contend with the technical favourites, the highest-ranked side heading into the competition, the definition of a unit, with stand-out players only standing out as tall as their smallest stand-out — the vastly experienced and forever threatening Sweden. A side that have never been beaten by England in competitive meetings and who got the better of them in their most recent tournament head-to-head, the bronze medal match at the previous World Cup. Despite the setting, the Scandinavians were the favourites, and despite wild optimism, England supporters knew it.
The game did not start evenly. England were immediately caught out on the flanks, despite a largely centralised Swedish side, and Mary Earps was called upon to make a save within the first minute, and she became a minor bastion in the first quarter of an hour, with Sweden pushing an England side determined to get comfortable with it as they persisted in passing around the back. But while Sweden pressed and occasionally exploited and exposed their opponents, The Lionesses never flapped. They recovered, they got away with it, and they played on. They knew they could pull off the plan, they just needed to keep attempting to gain their footing in the game.
It wasn’t just in defence though, the few forays England did manage into the Swedish area were stilted, as they allowed Sweden to recover and gave them time to get into a position to defend eventual crosses and passes. The first half-hour was a drab one for the home nation, with only Fran Kirby making any attempt to move forward instead of pass back, and she had little help in doing so.
But maybe that was the plan all along. Lull the Swedes in, let them think they’ve got ’em on the press, push the line, force the issue, until there’s that one second to slide a pass through, get a cross in, and… Drat, miss. But the ball falls to Lucy Bronze, who’d been caught a few times, but this time in acres of space and now, taking advantage of a Swedish defence in just enough disarray, firing back a first-time cross which Beth Mead touches and fires home — the only gap in the mighty Swedish wall. Those in blue and gold are rocked, it doesn’t seem as if they should be down at half-time, which is a troubling thought to occur…
So Sweden needed to come out firing, but it was Sarina whose speech worked successfully, as only minutes into the second half, a corner to the far post was headed back across and into the far corner by Lucy Bronze, and suddenly, England had a cushion. Sweden’s gameplan remained, but that would have to really grind away now, no beating around the bush as they did against Belgium, the gameplan had to pivot. As Sweden brushed forwards, England changed their own frontline, swapping out Ellen White for Alessia Russo once more and giving an increasingly stretched Sweden something else to think about. Kirby and Stanway continued to find gaps to exploit, and when Kirby was played in, she managed a composed pass into the path on the onrushing Russo, who had the goal at her mercy — anywhere but straight at Lindahl and the unthinkable 3–0 scoreline was in place.
She fired it straight at Lindahl.
The ball rebounded and Russo would pick it up, but with her back to goal and two defenders on her, as well as Lindahl having recovered into a reasonable blocking position, the chance was a little up in the- Russo back-heeled it. In one of the most outrageous things I’ve ever seen on such a stage, Alessia Russo had the fortitude to backheel a shot on goal when a big chance was still there for others, and not only that, it went in. And not only that, it went through Lindahl’s legs. It was madness, it was insanity, it was Alessia Russo, it was a stamp, a guarantee, almost a call from the heavens that England were into the Euro 2022 final.
Sweden continued to get forward and found gaps as well, but England dealt with it. Confidence was flowing through them like sin through the devil, and it was bubbling over just as much. Then came a more shrouded crowning glory — Fran Kirby, seeing Lindahl slightly off her line, goes for the chip, and despite a touch from the ‘keeper, just pulls it off. If 3–0 was unthinkable, 4–0 was unimaginable. But Fran Kirby, who’d had fatigue issues at the end of the WSL season, who hadn’t played a full game since February prior to the tournament, who has been put through the ringer a couple of times, and who has been through the hearts of England supporters even more, capped off a world-class result. I couldn’t think of a finer character to end the day.
Though they all played their part. Mary Earps once again showed off her frightening fundamentals, Williamson and Bright split responsibilities at centre-back stunningly, Daly and Bronze marauded and chased back in equal measure, Walsh played the anchor with aplomb, Stanway and Kirby dictated play, Hemp and Mead played ’em in and got played in, White was the runner, and you could make a case for all the subs being super.
In spite of early doubts, they dominated each area of the pitch, and were superior in each area of the pitch. They didn’t resort to low tactics, they just kept going until the day was done, and now their day is one match away from coming.
England 4–0 Sweden
One-half of the most important game of the year is set. And on home soil, the Lionesses have made it. In front of baying crowds, respectful, proud, and thankful, they march on to Wembley with a golden sparkle in their eyes. Sweden’s part cannot be underestimated because of this result, however. They had England for a while here, and it was only individual brilliance on occasion that kept them at bay. England will know what they’ve done, but they’ll know an imperious challenge awaits them as a call-back clash could well be on the cards.
GERMANY vs. FRANCE
A big game between two big teams. Wherever it’s played, whomever plays it, whichever sport it is, if you put Germany and France up against one another, it feels like a thing. And this is no exception — it is to be played for a spot on the grandest stage of the moment in the balance. Neither side entered as favourites, but they’ve asserted themselves into that conversation, with one of them now having to bow out. A game of pride, is on.
For me, France entered as the weaker side. Perhaps expected to glide through their group despite the dark-horsedness of it, it would only be their first game that would inspire world-beating, or at least Europe-beating, form. Germany, on the other hand, entered as eight-time champions and had no-one backing them. They were more than happy to remind everyone who they were as they made good teams look plain. The French stuttered against Netherlands, needing too many chances. Many said Germany barely survived against Austria, but they survived and overcame, grinding down their opponents’ game plan easily in the end. Going in, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a repeat scoreline of the night prior in favour of the Germans.
The plans were solid. Two sides cancelled one another out — it seemed as if we were going to get that big-six FA Cup Final where both are too scared to go forward, too scared to lose, but in spite of the other team repelling attacks, both kept going. They didn’t lie down, they didn’t roll over, they didn’t stop — they persisted. It was marvellous to see. Too many, the definition of insanity, to these sides, a pressure cooker constantly threatening to boil over. Who would descend into chaos, and who could exploit it? Germany, obviously.
Did you really expect an organised German side, conceders of zero goals to lose composure? No. A cross in, a divided French twosome, and a run across from the living-her-best-Euros-life-at-last Alexandra Popp, firing over and beyond the too often helpless Peyraud-Magnin. But a helpless goalkeeper was not a unique thing to France, at least not in this game. Moments later, a snap-shot from Kadi Diani thundered off the post… And into the back of diving German ‘keeper Merle Frohms. The only goal to have been conceded, they’re probably glad it was at their hand.
Square at half-time is deceiving though. It made France look level in the game, and it’s not that they were being played out of the game, but they didn’t have the hold that Germany did. Outside of Wendie Renard’s headers, France had been taking advantage of the occasional slack German pass, and to their credit, they made chances out of every one they could, but that wasn’t enough, with Frohms making a few good saves to sit them down. Germany may have advanced frantically (and sparsely), but they never seemed frantic — only in their energy, never in their sensibility. Their strikers were composed and constant, their midfielders domineering, and their defenders steady. That made it clear that France’s weren’t. It was perhaps in Germany’s width that they failed in their forays, with little aid for any advancing attacker, but France had to continue to repel them, and did so. They attempted to force the issue as well, but while chances came, they were flashes, and eventually, snatches, and Germany would react as if it was scripted and they couldn’t be bothered to act shocked anymore — they knew how this went, and it was not a France goal. It was a German one. Another case of Alexandra Popp crossing a French defence and reaching the cross before anyone else can set themselves. This wasn’t the imperious performance we’d seen prior, but it was calm and controlled, and tactically sufficient to aggressively survive, proving that the finest form of defence, is attack.
Germany 2–1 France
There was composure missing from France. A lot of young players, rumours of dressing room disharmony, and that occasional lack of cohesion that would be so, so telling as they kept one clean sheet and struggled to see out the majority of their games. You can rarely call Wendie Renard a disadvantage, but can such a weapon become a crutch? Germany spread the wealth across the pitch once again, as they have done throughout the tournament, and that squeeze eventually told on the French, the tactical spread (spearheaded by an industrious Lena Oberdorf, who is unlucky to miss out on player of the match) and dominance seeing them off, and setting up a slice of history that sounds familiar, but is something we’ve never seen before.
Wembley, are you ready?
Because there ain’t a much bigger game to hope for in what will be the final. This:-
- England vs. Germany
Like when Ghostbusters got remade, the lasses are making their own, and how the stage shines with the occasion, the sides, and every peeking eye upon it. England, who have scored twenty goals, conceding one, and Germany, who have scored thirteen, and conceded one. That’s what you like to see, innit?
To Sweden, I say tack.
To France, merci.
You have written your places in history once again, and the tales you have weaved throughout this tournament have been magisterial, but here they end.
From these two, the England vs. Sweden game was something absolutely insane to see, especially with the story going in, so that gets my match of the round. I look forward to selecting my match of the round next time out.
The hosts versus the eight-time winners. Six-goal top-scorer versus six-goal top-scorer. Enemies turned friends. England vs. Germany.
You couldn’t write it.
Keep it streets ahead,