Euro 2022: Why England are team to fear at tournament

Millie Bright and Ellen White
England have not lost a game under Sarina Wiegman since she took over in September

As England calmly walked around the pitch at full-time at St Mary’s Stadium, applauding fans after beating Northern Ireland 5-0, there was a definite sense of anticipation about what comes next.

England had completed part one – qualify as group winners and progress to the quarter-finals without any drama.

Their low-key celebrations were typical of a side who intend to be in the competition for another two weeks and their flawless record in the group stage was just as planned.

But it would be an injustice to underplay the efficiency with which England reached the quarter-finals.

They scored 14 goals in their three games – the most by a team in the group stages of a women’s Euros, overtaking Germany’s 11 in 2001.

England also became the first team to score five or more goals in consecutive matches in the tournament, having done so without conceding any.

Their final group-stage victory came four days after beating their own tournament record by thrashing Norway 8-0 in Brighton – a result that sent a strong message to their rivals.

That performance came against a Norway team containing inaugural Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg, Champions League winner Caroline Graham Hansen and three-time Women’s Super League champion Guro Reiten.

“It would be a massive failure if England didn’t win this tournament. Everyone else may as well just go home,” Northern Ireland boss Kenny Shiels said on Friday.

England winger Lauren Hemp told BBC Sport it was “important to make a statement so teams fear us” after they booked their place in the quarter-finals so have they achieved that in the group stages?

“Yeah, I hope so. It’s a one-off game in the quarter-finals though so regardless of form going into it, it’s who turns up on the day,” said England defender Lucy Bronze.

“We’ve had a great few games but we narrowly edged past Austria so we know we need to keep improving, show up and do our best, no matter who we face.

“The opponents can turn up and have an amazing game as well so we need to put to bed our form. We can celebrate, we set some records, scored a lot of goals but that’s about it. The quarter-finals are the quarter-finals.”

It will be Denmark or Spain next for England in the quarter-finals after they avoided Group C winners Germany, who have also impressed in the tournament.

But despite their strong form, even Germany boss Martina Voss-Tecklenburg admitted she was pleased to have set up an “easier” tie against Austria by avoiding England.

It is no surprise then, that defender Alex Greenwood said “confidence is high” for England, who remain unbeaten under Wiegman, but she insisted they cannot afford to drop their level.

“Whoever we come up against I have no doubts we will be prepared. If you look at our results then teams will probably look at us, but we don’t look too far ahead,” she said.

Asked whether the group stage could have been more perfect, she added: “I don’t think so. Three wins from three and no goals conceded is pretty good, right?”

One of England’s biggest strengths going into the quarter-finals is the depth of quality in the squad.

Manchester United forward Alessia Russo came off the bench to score against Norway, and went one step further by scoring twice as a substitute against Northern Ireland.

Her form will provide Wiegman with a selection headache in the last eight, while other youngsters Chloe Kelly and Ella Toone continue to make their mark in cameo displays.

Alessia Russo
Alessia Russo came off the bench to score twice against Northern Ireland and has three goals in three games

“They have been incredible. I’m so proud of them all,” said England striker Ellen White.

“It shows the depth we have in this squad. I was definitely smiling watching those goals go in, those performances and watching this team play. It is really exciting.

“We have depth and that great togetherness. We’re like a family and everyone is proud of everyone in this team.”

England also have a manager in Wiegman who knows how to win the Euros, having done so with the Netherlands in 2017, and she has operated with similar efficiency.

Opting to maintain “rhythm” and momentum as opposed to rotating the starting side in the final group game was something she used with great effect while in charge of the Netherlands in 2017.

She has been able to deflect any pressure of being the host nation, laughing off the “favourites” tag before England’s win over Norway.

Wiegman has also called for her side to “entertain” and use the home support to their advantage, and there is a growing sense of togetherness.

“We have to soak it in. That crowd again [at St Mary’s Stadium] was incredible. The noise was brilliant and over 30,000 people turned out,” said White.

“It is such a dream for us to play in front of that crowd. We want to make everyone proud and hopefully they are. We can’t wait for the quarter-finals now.”

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