England set for watershed moment as Sarina Wiegman’s transformed Lionesses reach Euro 2022 final


ngland are on the brink of history after reaching the European Championship final with a 4-0 thrashing of Sweden at Bramall Lane.

On one of the Lionesses’ greatest nights, Sarina Wiegman’s side set up a meeting with France or Germany at Wembley on Sunday with a magnificent display of ruthlessness and skill against the side ranked second in the world.

Substitute Alessia Russo stole the show with a stunning and audacious backheeled finish to make it 3-0 and there were standout performances across England’s XI.

But the victory felt bigger than individuals or even this team in terms of what it will do to further enhance women’s football in this country.

England are capturing the country’s imagination and growing the game in real time, and the final promises to be a watershed moment for the sport and the squad, who could quickly become household names after a performance of surprising dominance in Sheffield.

Beth Mead opened the scoring and continued her march towards the Golden Boot with a sixth goal at the finals following an emphatic touch and finish, and Lucy Bronze made it 2-0 with a header from a corner.

Fran Kirby bagged England’s fourth with a cute lob, capping another fine display, while Lauren Hemp, Georgia Stanway, Kiera Walsh and Leah Williamson were all oustanding.

Goalkeeper Mary Earps also played her part too, keeping Sweden at bay after the visitors raced out of the blocks, and saving well from Stina Blackstenius in the second half.

Masterminding it all was Wiegman, who has only been in post since September, but has transformed England’s mentality and raised their levels to a point where they will be firm favourites, regardless of the opponent on Sunday.

Russo’s magic moment

Alessia Russo produced an iconic moment of skill and audacity to help clinch England’s place at Wembley.

The substitute nutmegged Hedvig Lindahl with a backheel from the edge of the six-yard box after her initial shot was parried by the Sweden goalkeeper.

Russo was facing away from goal and had no right to get off a shot, let alone score.

There were questions about Lindahl — who was also unable to prevent Kirby’s fourth and had a poor night — but no goalkeeper can have exected Russo to go for goal from that position.

It was a feat as much of imagination as skill.

At any level, it will go down as one of the great England goals but to come in a semi-final will guarantee the moment a place in history, even more so if England go on to lift a first European Championship on Sunday.

Alessia Russo continues to shine for England off the bench

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Russo has now scored four times from the bench in the tournament, and got the crucial assist for Ella Toone against Spain.

After almost every game, there has been a case for her to start the next but whether she is in the XI or not at Wembley no longer feels of major importance.

Clearly, she is game-changing option to have from the bench, particularly against tired legs, so it may be canny to keep her in reserve again.

Whether she starts or not, Russo has already produced the moment — and goal — of the tournament, which will long live in the memory.

Big-game Bronze steps up

Lucy Bronze is still perhaps England’s most renowned and recognisable player but, before tonight, the Barcelona right-back no longer looked like one of their best.

Once named the best player in the world by FIFA, Bronze has appeared to slow down in her fifth major tournament for England and she particularly struggled in the quarter-final win over Spain, who appeared to target the 30-year-old by channelling play down the left flank.

Bronze’s displays have led to suggestions she is slowing down and perhaps suffering the impact of injuries over the course of a magnificent career.

In Sheffield, Bronze offered a timely reminder of her enduring quality with a decisive performance when it mattered.

The right-back set up the first goal for Mead with a fizzed, first-time cross and sealed the win with a well-placed header through two pairs of legs.

Bronze may not be as explosive as she was once was in her pomp for Lyon but she remains a big-game player, with the technical quality and mentality to make the difference at the highest level.

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