Women’s Euro 2022 team guide No 2: England



As Euro 2022 hosts England qualified automatically but there should be few doubts about their playing credentials. After reaching the semi-finals of the last three major tournaments under Mark Sampson and Phil Neville, the Lionesses appear to have hit new heights, taking their game to a different level under the guidance of the former Netherlands manager Sarina Wiegman.

As the former England forward and Guardian columnist Karen Carney says: “There’s something different about this team now. They’ve got a little bit of class. This is such a promising period for England. The manager really is top drawer.”

Like Neville, Wiegman likes to play out from the back but, less dogmatic, she is unafraid to confuse opponents by varying her tactical approach and has added attacking incision and defensive discipline to a now altogether more ruthless first XI. With some once key stalwarts nearing the end of their careers there has been been an infusion of new blood and a fresh captain in Arsenal’s Leah Williamson.

With Williamson, naturally a centre half, likely to be deployed in midfield, Wiegman’s central defensive axis of Millie Bright and Alex Greenwood looks key. Even so, she will continue to rely heavily on Ellen White’s goals and could do with Lauren Hemp and Fran Kirby (if fit), two world class attacking talents, being at their very best in a tournament featuring some formidable looking opponents.

Undaunted by the threat from, among others, France, Germany, Spain and Sweden, Wiegman remains optimistic. “We’ve shown we can win against different and difficult opponents,” says a manager who will need to make a definite decision as to whether Mary Earps or Ellie Roebuck is her first-choice goalkeeper. “I think as a team we’ve grown really fast.”

The coach
Sarina Wiegman. The 52-year-old from The Hague led the Netherlands to Euro 2017 glory on home soil, beating Denmark in the final. In 2019 the Oranje reached the World Cup final in France, losing to the United States and, two years later, she took charge of England. A former Netherlands defensive midfielder, the University of North Carolina graduate was capped 104 times by her country. After retiring from playing to bring up her two daughters, Wiegman, who is married to experienced fellow football coach Marten Glotzbach, initially combined working as a PE teacher with managing women’s teams. On acquiring her pro licence badge, she accepted a coaching secondment with Sparta Rotterdam’s men’s team, becoming the first Dutch woman to coach at a male professional club. She has said it proved the perfect preparation for her subsequent post helming Netherlands Women. Routinely described as “a control freak” by former colleagues, Wiegman is a firm believer that the devil really is in the detail.

Star player
Lauren Hemp. At only 21 years old the Manchester City winger is already a key component of Sarina Wiegman’s attacking trident and vital to the coach’s ambitions for England. A game-changer who bewitches fans and bewilders opposing defenders in equal measure, she was voted the PFA’s young female player of the year in four of the last five seasons, and has long been regarded as one of Europe’s brightest talents. Kelly Smith, once England’s standout forward, says of her: “There are not too many players that get me off my seat but Lauren Hemp is one. When she gets the ball she makes things happens, she dribbles so fast, she’s lethal.” Born and brought up in north Norfolk, where she excelled at cricket at school, Hemp joined Bristol City at the age of 16, moving on to Manchester City four years ago. City teammates consistently praise her refreshing humility and report she is reassuringly unchanged by increasing fame. Hemp scored 20 goals in 36 games for City last season, contributing a further 10 assists. Small wonder the City and England centre forward Ellen White loves playing alongside her.

Chloe Kelly. The Manchester City winger tore her ACL in May 2021 and returned to the first team only this April. Since then though the 24-year-old, capable of playing anywhere across the front line, has impressed, making seven club appearances and scoring twice. An intelligent dribbler with an an eye for goal, Kelly’s enviably adhesive close control was honed playing cage football on the estates of west London alongside her five older brothers. It will be no surprise to see a player who reports feeling “fresh and fit” shine in Sarina Wiegman’s front three. If Kelly appears to have timed her long-awaited comeback to perfection, it also helps that she has a near-telepathic understanding with her City and England attacking teammates, Hemp and White. Kelly says she has been dreaming of Euro 2022 from the moment she injured her knee; a long-awaited moment in the sun could be beckoning.

All-time hero
Kelly Smith. The sublime forward won 117 England caps, scoring 46 goals during a Lionesses’s career stretching from 1995-2014. Despite being hampered by serious injuries and an alcohol addiction, Smith, now 43, inspired an entire generation of female players while lifting the women’s games to new heights. Hope Powell, her former England manager, said: “Kelly was one of those players who come along only once or twice in a lifetime. In the men’s game they are the Maradonas and the Messis, players with a unique talent. That’s what Kelly has.” Smith starred for Arsenal but also shone during assorted stints playing for club sides in the US. The supremely gifted former USA forward Mia Hamm summed up Smith’s sumptuous blend of incision and improvisation. “Kelly’s incredibly technical with great speed of thought and play,” said Hamm. “Her touch is different class. Everything she does is clean and with a purpose. The pace of her passes is perfect and she can score at will.”

Euro history
Not brilliant. England have never won Europe’s showpiece, although they have featured in two finals. They lost the inaugural, two-legged final back in 1984 (a four-team tournament hosted across a quartet of countries) 4-3 on penalties to Sweden and then waited until 2009 in Finland before reaching another final. Back then Hope Powell’s side were thrashed 6-2 by an omnipotent Germany. Powell’s tenure ended in the wake of crushing disappointment four years later in Sweden, where England were swiftly eliminated after finishing bottom of their group. Although the team improved radically under her successor, Mark Sampson, and were regarded as favourites to win Euro 2017 in the Netherlands, the Lionesses suffered a chastening semi-final 3-0 defeat to Sarina Wiegman’s eventual winners, the Netherlands.

Realistic aim this summer
Winners. Well, perhaps. England are on home soil after all, have reached the semi-finals of their last three major tournaments and appear much improved under Sarina Wiegman. Even so, much could hinge on an awkward looking quarter-final. Should England emerge from Group A,they would then likely face a significant test against either Germany or Spain (Group B’s expected top two) in the last eight. Actually lifting the trophy might entail overcoming further testing opponents, including a formidable-looking France.