We already knew that England could win Euro 2022. What we know now is that they genuinely might. In their opening fixture—and indeed the tournament’s first match—they looked tinged with nerves, were tentative, and allowed Austria to thwart them more than they’d have liked.
Under Sarina Wiegman’s management, England has scored 93 goals and conceded just three in 16 matches. She speaks of a desire for “ruthlessness” at every press conference without fail, and that killer nature of continuing to ramp up the score to the point where fans, pundits, and the players themselves are losing track was seen in many of their World Cup qualifiers last autumn and this spring. They hit Latvia for 20 and racked up a fair few 10–0 wins, too.
Against Austria at Old Trafford, things were different. England created fewer chances, and naturally scored fewer as well. But Beth Mead’s goal—adjudged to have crept over the line by both VAR and goal-line technology—was enough to get the Lionesses off to a winning start. That’s always the host nation’s main priority in a tournament opener. Win. The. Game.
And yet England seemed not to relieve themselves of pressure with that win, but instead to heap more of it upon themselves. The lack of clinical finishing had rightly concerned fans, and the need for Georgia Stanway in midfield and Millie Bright in defence to mop up and put in a few crucial challenges to avoid dangerous Austrian attacks was similarly seen as a worry.
England then returned to their training base, the plush Lensbury Hotel in Teddington, and watched on as Germany, Spain, France, and group rivals Norway romped to victories in their opening games—each laying down a marker that they aren’t here simply to make up the numbers.
The mind, each time, returned to England. It pondered whether the Lionesses really were up to this. Whether England’s young players really could carry the nation’s hopes on their shoulders, or whether more experienced squads would instead have the nous to go the distance.
England was having none of it. At a humid Amex Stadium in Brighton on Monday night, England—ranked eighth in the world—dismantled Norway—ranked 11th—registering the biggest win in the long history of the Women’s Euros.
England 8–0 Norway was a scarcely believable scoreline. Indeed, it still is. This was a match which was supposed to be extremely tight. Norway were many journalists’ dark horses for this tournament, and their front three are arguably more dangerous than England’s. Not on Monday.
England was utterly irrepressible. They were 6–0 up by half-time, and their second half endeavour never seemed to wane. The raucous crowd only brought the dreaded Mexican wave out in the 67th minute, and regular followers of England’s women’s side will know that’s a huge compliment to the outstanding performance the players were delivering on the pitch.
Striker Ellen White was back among the goals, always a good omen for England in a major tournament. Beth Mead picked up her fourth England hat-trick of the season. What a stupendous campaign she’s had since being brutally left out of Team GB’s Olympic squad last summer for supposedly lacking form at club level. The manager who’d made that call was then-interim England manager Hege Riise, a former star for the Norway national team. Now here Mead was, destroying Norway. How very full-circle.
Full-circle too was this scoreline. England’s biggest-ever defeat came in a Euro 2001 qualifier in June 2000. Norway 8–0 England. 22 years later, here was their revenge—Uno reverse-style. The only difference: this was in a major tournament.
Northern Ireland is next for Wiegman’s Lionesses—though that’s a dead rubber, as they’re already out and England already confirmed as Group A winners. They face either Spain or Denmark in the quarters.
A tough task? In both cases, yes. It’ll be the knockout stages of the Euros. What does England expect? But they can do it. They’re the team to fear above all others, this summer. Does that make them favourites?
Whisper it quietly: I think it does.