Women’s Euro: History, contenders and storylines to follow as Spain lead challengers to hosts England

Women’s Euro: History, contenders and storylines to follow as Spain lead challengers to hosts England

London: Five years after Sarina Wiegman’s Netherlands team triumphed on home turf at the European Championship, Sarina Wiegman’s England begin among the favourites to … triumph on home turf. Wiegman’s switch to coach the Lionesses has served as a key sub-plot to the tournament, which will put women’s football in the spotlight throughout July. Women’s Euro 2022 gets under way when England play Austria at Old Trafford on Wednesday (July 6), women taking the spotlight in a year when the men’s World Cup unusually takes place in November and December. Almost 120,000 spectators attended games when England’s north west staged Euro 2005; however, the overwhelming majority were either at games featuring England, or at the final between Germany and Norway at Blackburn Rovers’ Ewood Park. That meant some games were sparsely attended, with just 957 spectators seeing France beat Italy in the group stages in Preston. This time, with the tournament boosted from eight to 16 teams since England were last hosts, over 500,000 tickets have been sold, meaning near-empty stadiums should be a thing of the past.

Germany used to be the queens of the Women’s Euros, but their crown has slipped. After winning six consecutive titles, the Germans fell short at Euro 2017 when they lost to eventual runners-up Denmark in the quarter-finals. It was all rather end-of-an-era stuff, with the rise of professionalism across Europe’s most powerful and forward-thinking footballing nations only likely to be further in evidence this year. Germany, of course, are included among those powerhouses, but they have plenty of company now at the top table. The Dutch hosts roared to glory at Euro 2017, with Vivianne Miedema scoring twice in a 4-2 victory over the Danes in the final, having demolished Mark Sampson’s England 3-0 to reach that stage. Miedema joined Arsenal shortly before that tournament and has become the Women’s Super League’s record scorer while with the Gunners, the defining player of the blossoming WSL. This is a tournament that was first officially staged in 1984, with Sweden beating England on penalties in Luton after the teams finished tied on aggregate after home and away ties. From the second staging in 1987 through to 1997, the tournament was staged every two years, with Norway triumphing in 1987 and 1993. Germany – and West Germany in 1989 – otherwise swept the board and continued to do so when it became a quadrennial championship. The mighty Germans dismissed England 6-2 in the 2009 final in Helsinki, with a Lionesses team that included Alex Scott, Kelly Smith, Karen Carney, Eni Aluko, Fara Williams and Casey Stoney overwhelmed. Another survivor from that match, veteran midfielder Jill Scott, features in Wiegman’s squad this year.

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