England urged to seize the day for women’s football fever
LONDON: England women’s captain Leah Williamson called on the Lionesses to seize the opportunity of a lifetime with the host nation gripped for Sunday’s Euro 2022 final against Germany at Wembley.
A tournament that has smashed attendance records will get a fitting finale with a crowd of 87,000 expected to set a new high for a final at either the men’s or women’s European Championship.
England have never won a major tournament in the women’s game and have waited 56 years for any triumph since the men’s 1966 World Cup.
“Tomorrow is a day of opportunity,” said Williamson on the eve of the game.
“That’s the only thing that makes it any different to any other game, that the stakes are that much higher. But this is what we all live for and this is why I play football.”
Anticipation is reaching fever pitch in a nation where women’s football was banned for nearly 50 years until 1970.
On top of a sold-out Wembley, a crowd of 7,000 is set to congregate to watch the final on big screens in London’s Trafalgar Square.
Outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid tribute to the impact Sarina Wiegman’s women will have on the future of the game.
“The pitches and playgrounds and parks of this country will be filled as never before with girls and women who know beyond any shadow of a doubt that football is not just for boys – it really is for everyone,” Johnson wrote in a letter addressed to Wiegman, Williamson and the rest of the England squad.
Pressure on England
Wiegman is unbeaten in 19 games since taking charge of England in September.
The reserved Dutch coach has achieved her goal of inspiring a nation, but admitted earlier this week to wanting to hide in her own “bunker” to block out the hype around the final.
“I’m not stupid. I see things happening and it’s really incredible,” said Wiegman. “I really enjoy that too, but then you come back to what your job is, and that’s getting ready for Germany.”
Germany boss Martina Voss-Tecklenburg said all the pressure was on England as they try to deal with the weight of expectation from the home crowd.
Despite the prospect of facing a hostile atmosphere, Voss-Tecklenburg said she would not have wished for the eight-time winners to face anyone other than England in the final.
“We’ve dreamt of this, a final against England at Wembley.
“I don’t know if there is a bigger moment for our players. We want to stay present and embrace everything.”
Tournament organisers UEFA are also under the spotlight after the chaotic scenes around last year’s men’s European Championship final at Wembley and the Champions League final in Paris in May.
England’s men were forced to play a game behind closed doors last month after violent clashes marred the end to Euro 2020 as fans charged the turnstiles in a bid to see the Three Lions’ defeat on penalties to Italy.
A strict no alcohol zone has been put in place around the stadium with fans without tickets strongly urged to not to travel to the stadium.
“Whoever comes out on top, England against Germany at the iconic Wembley Stadium will be one for the history books and an unforgettable event for a whole generation,” said UEFA’s head of women’s football, Nadine Kessler.