The 2022 Women’s European Championship gets under way on Wednesday when hosts England take on Austria at Old Trafford.
Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the talking points around the tournament.
Back and bigger than ever
The 13th edition of the Euros returns to England 17 years on from the previous time it was held there, and is set to be some spectacle. The 2005 competition featured eight teams and five stadiums, all in the north west, with the highest attendance being the near-30,000 that watched the Lionesses beat Finland at the Etihad Stadium. This summer’s showpiece involves 16 sides and 10 stadiums located in various parts of the country, with the Old Trafford opener and Wembley final among the games already sold out. Overall, the record ticket sales have broken the 500,000 mark, more than doubling the tally of 240,000 for Euro 2017 in the Netherlands. While there has been some criticism of venue choices – Iceland midfielder Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir branded the use of the Academy Stadium, which will have a capacity of 4,700, as “disrespectful” – organisers have stressed their belief the “right mix of stadiums has been chosen to provide the tournament with a platform to fulfil its potential”.
England’s bid for glory
The hosts head into the tournament as one of the favourites and hunting what would be a first piece of major silverware in their history. England have twice been Euros runners-up, in 1984 and 2009, while their best World Cup finish was third in Canada in 2015. That was the first in a sequence of successive runs to semi-finals at their last three major tournaments – at both Euro 2017 and the 2019 World Cup in France they lost in the last four to the teams that went on to lift the trophy, the Netherlands and the United States respectively. England’s captain in each of those three campaigns, Manchester City’s Steph Houghton, has missed out on selection this time after Achilles surgery; Arsenal’s Leah Williamson was confirmed as skipper for this tournament in April.
The Wiegman factor
To oversee this summer’s quest, the Football Association has brought in the manager that guided the Dutch to their 2017 triumph, and then the World Cup final two years later – and Sarina Wiegman’s time as England boss so far has certainly been encouraging. Since she took charge last September, the team have been unbeaten in 14 fixtures, winning 12 of them, with 84 goals scored and only three conceded. Those victories included a 3-1 win over Germany at Molineux in February that secured the Lionesses the Arnold Clark Cup, and a 5-1 thrashing of the Netherlands at Elland Road in a Euros warm-up earlier this month.
Northern Ireland’s history-makers
As well as Austria and Norway, England’s group features a Northern Ireland outfit breaking new ground, with the team making its major tournament debut. Kenny Shiels’ side secured their place with a play-off victory over Ukraine last year and, at 47th, are the lowest-ranked nation at the finals. They open their historic campaign by facing Norway at St Mary’s on Thursday.
Among the sides joining England as being tipped as potential winners this summer are 1984 champions and world number two-ranked Sweden, who beat the Lionesses to come third at the 2019 World Cup and were subsequently runners-up at last summer’s Tokyo Olympics. Germany are eight-time Euros champions, and Spain, with current Ballon d’Or holder Alexia Putellas in their ranks, are highly regarded. It will be interesting to see how Norway fare with the fit-again Ada Hegerberg, who won the Ballon d’Or in 2018 and helped Lyon beat Putellas’ Barcelona in the Champions League final in May, back in the fold five years after stepping away from the national team.
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