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There’s never any shortage of world football matches going on at any given time — just look at the diverse offerings on ESPN+ — but what makes a tournament like the Women’s Euro 2022 so special is that it has the very best on offer.
Some of the best goals, best saves and best performances happened in England this summer during the Euros. But there’s always that flipside in sport, where with the best you find a bit of the worst, too.
With that in mind, ESPN’s writers who covered the tournament throughout July are weighing in with their best and worst of Euro 2022. Here are Tom Hamilton, Sophie Lawson, and Mark Ogden with their superlatives from a memorable summer.
Hamilton: Well, it has to be Alessia Russo‘s backheel against Sweden. It was an outrageous piece of skill, which nutmegged two players and closed out the match. It said everything about this group of players — they had the confidence to try the outrageous but it also spoke to Russo’s mental strength. Just seconds previously she missed a chance that she should’ve scored. But instead of halting in her tracks, she chased the rebound and then backheeled the ball past half of Sweden and into the far corner.
Lawson: Firstly, shout-out to all the group stage bangers from just inside/outside the box that curled to snuggle inside of the post — there was a raft of them and they were great, but have all been DWARFED by that damn Russo goal that we are all going to pick. Cool, calm, collected, deft and just filthy… and of course, enough to deny Sweden any route back into the match so, important to boot.
Ogden: Tough one. The obvious answer is Russo’s back-heel goal against Sweden — being there to see it live was like watching Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo do something magical — but in terms of importance, I’m going to go with Georgia Stanway’s come-from-behind winner in England’s quarterfinal win against Spain. It was a tight game, heading for penalties, but Stanway grabbed the moment and claimed the win with a goal that had echoes of Bobby Charlton’s goals in 1966 or the kind of spectacular strike that once typified David Beckham and Wayne Rooney. Stanway’s goal puts her in that bracket.
Hamilton: That midfield duo at the heart of England’s midfield have been magnificent. Georgia Stanway has played brilliantly with her goal against Spain the sort worthy of winning any quarterfinal, but I’m going for Keira Walsh. She’s been absolutely outstanding for England and has been absolutely instrumental in all of their transitional play, while also acting as the wall in front of England’s back four. She’s already had her face projected onto the National Gallery in London, but her performances here have cemented her as a national superstar.
The midfielder has been fantastic this summer, reading the game like someone twice her age, standing up to all challenges and chaining up some of the biggest attacking threats at the Euros. At a tournament when we’ve looked to the attacks and kept talking about the Golden Boot race, the 20-year-old has been putting on a clinic game after game — and anyway, goal scorers are so passé.
Ogden: Leah Williamson has been majestic in the heart of defence for England, not only with her reading of the game and passing ability, but also her leadership as captain. Other players have had more spectacular tournaments, but Williamson has been quietly outstanding. Special mention also should go to her defensive partner Millie Bright who has been the perfect foil for Williamson.
Hamilton: I expected and hoped for so much more from Ada Hegerberg and Norway. She’s an incredible talent but her lack of chances at the tournament was symptomatic of the deeply underwhelming Norway team. Against Austria it was her sort of stage, but she was misfiring and that’s not like her. In a match Norway had to win to get through the group stage, they didn’t manage a single shot on target until the 89th minute. This will have hurt Hegerberg and expect to see a response from her at next year’s World Cup.
Lawson: Can I say every Italy player? Coming into the tournament, I knew Norway, Spain and the Netherlands had their issues so I’m not too surprised about their underwhelming performances — but Italy’s complete collapse against France and inability to correct themselves for their next two games was jarring. There were glimpses from some of the attackers of the talent that was lurking but match after match, we saw an 11 that was just staggeringly below their level, disappointing doesn’t even cut it.
Ogden: I’m not going to single out a player for underperforming, basically because this has been a tournament that has showcased the best of the women’s game rather than any negative elements. But it was a blow for the tournament that Spain’s Alexia Putellas missed out with a cruciate ligament injury. It would also have been good to have seen more of England’s Nikita Parris than brief glimpses from the substitutes’ bench.
Hamilton: How different the whole game may have been had Mary Earps not managed to keep out Sofia Jakobsson’s effort in the first minute of England’s semifinal against Sweden. She made a box office save later in the match under her own crossbar, but that save first up was absolutely key. Jakobsson managed to find space on the left and fired a shot in at Earps’ far post. Earps instinctively stuck out her left leg and managed to deflect it clear. Had that gone in, that match would have gone very differently.
Lawson: It’s worth remembering that we saw some cracking saves from Daphne van Domselaar, Merle Frohms and Nicky Evrard but I’m going to go a little out of the box here and say Mary Earps against Austria. It was a late effort from Barbara Dunst, but exactly the type she likes when she can work the space and lash a curler towards goal, but Earps getting across to deny the 24-year-old one of the goals of the tournament carried extra significance. Not only was it a textbook “good” save but it kept Earps’ clean sheet, giving her more confidence for the subsequent games but it ensured England held onto all three points to start the tournament with a win; again, a firmer foundation the team were able to build upon.
Ogden: This has been the Mary Earps show. Two crucial saves in the semi against Sweden — in the first minute and then tipping over from Stina Blackstenius moments before Alessia Russo made it 3-0. The Blackstenius save was huge because, had that one gone in, a 2-1 lead with 20 minutes to go would have ensured a totally different end to the game and could have motivated the Swedes to haul themselves level.
Hamilton: England’s quarterfinal win over Spain was one of the most nervy and tense matches I can remember. It was a match where Spain dominated much of the first 60 minutes, only to then eventually fall to Ella Toone’s late equaliser and Georgia Stanway’s extra-time winner. We got to witness the complete brilliance of Aitana Bonmati, and Spain’s intricate passing — had they had a fit Jennifer Hermoso, England would have been in trouble. But then we also saw the heroic performance of Millie Bright at the heart of England’s defence and Stanway’s blockbuster winner. It was a brilliant match, in a superb atmosphere and was everything this tournament’s about.
Lawson: This is a horrible question to ask someone who’s reported on half of them in this heat, leaving one big melty blob of a memory of the entire month … that being said, the Germany-France semi-final was up there in terms of tension and, let’s be boring here but, solid defensive structures and counter-pressing. There is something to be said for a match that’s so tightly contested, yes yes, most fans would rather see their team sow it up early with some outrageous attacking but the stress of a close game when so much is riding on it, makes it stick out in the mind.
Ogden: It has to be the final, doesn’t it? England-Spain and Germany-France were both seismic games that could have gone either way, but the final had everything. Two top teams who were so well-matched and England had to show real grit and determination to win before the audacity and skill of Ella Toone gave them the breakthrough. But Germany equalised and took the game into extra-time to add to the tension, only for Chloe Kelly to seal victory for England and save us / deny us the drama of a penalty shootout.
Hamilton: The Sweden-Belgium game was a struggle to watch. It was attack against defence and despite the remarkable performance from Belgium keeper Nicky Evrard, it was cagey and error-strewn. Eventually Sweden broke Belgium’s resolve with a 92nd minute goal from Linda Sembrant, but it was a match that promised so much more.
Lawson: I personally do not like drubbings, and not just because I support a club team who has frequently been on the receiving end of them, so, for me, it’s the 8-0. You can say a dull 0-0 is the worst but those games are usually, easily forgotten but the complete capitulation from Norway to the point that they weren’t even trying to defend was deeply uncomfortable and will be consigned to women’s football infamy. Worst defending, worst individual performances, worst in-game management, worst defeat in Norwegian and Euros history. Overall, a terrible look for the women’s game.
Sarina Wiegman speaks about the lasting impact of England’s win at the Women’s European Championship.
Ogden: When you look back on England’s performance throughout the tournament, the opening game against Austria — a 1-0 win at Old Trafford — was pretty dull in comparison to what was to come. Opening games are always a challenge due to the desperation of both teams to avoid a bad start and that was evident in this game. But things got better — much better.
Hamilton: Little beats the involuntary reactions of fans to when their heroes do something remarkable. Watching England-Sweden in Trafalgar Square was a joy — and you could see up close exactly what this tournament meant to people of all ages. The atmosphere there was a mixture of curious football fans wearing last summer’s England tops, young girls and boys who had the Lionesses’ names on their back, and families looking for a midweek outing in London.
There, captured in the 4,000 present in the famous square was the manifestation of exactly why the last four weeks have been so special. It’s meant something different to everyone watching it — from those who have been integral to the game’s growth, to those watching the women’s game for the first time, and those who have loved watching their heroes.
Lawson: It has absolutely nothing to do with the football, but tournaments are fantastic for socialising with other, shall we say, women’s football enthusiasts. Especially as this was the first major women’s tournament since the start of the pandemic (that fans were allowed to travel to and attend), it’s seen people from all over the world descend on England.
Yes, it is tricky when you’re working and travelling up and down the country, but I’ve found the time to catch up with other journalists I haven’t seen since the 2019 World Cup as well as finally getting to meet up with fans and women’s football creators I’ve been talking to for years. The women’s football community is a fun one.
Ogden: The atmosphere around the games and total absence of rival groups of fans taunting each other, berating the players and officials or disrupting national anthems. There has also been a lack of toxicity on social media connected to the tournament.
Covering Euro 22 has made me realise just how angry and unforgiving the men’s game has become in so many ways, so it would be something if the women’s game can inspire a positive change in that area.
Hamilton: It has to be the pesky U.K. transport system. It simply wasn’t up to scratch to service the tournament with hundreds delayed getting to Brighton for England’s match against Norway, and then train strikes interrupting plans on the day of the Germany-France semifinal. Some of the venue choices were also curious, at best — how must those feel who turned down the chance to host matches at this tournament when they were asked five years back.
Lawson: The trains, obviously. You can’t really blame the FA for the strikes and issues that come with the hot weather — that’s just the infrastructure of the country — but it put a dampener on things for fans and journalists alike.
It’s a boring one, but another is the behind-the-scenes logistics for media. From Wi-Fi that wasn’t strong enough to email over a match report, to outside mixed zones in the wind and rain that are full of screaming fans, to stewards that don’t know where anything is when you need directions. Media rooms that not only run out of food (OK, whatever), but out of water in scorching weather? It just hasn’t been good enough, and that’s before you talk about the stadiums that aren’t fit for hosting a Euros. It’s quite frankly been a mess, and made it harder to work — especially after the comparative ease of the last two tournaments I’ve covered.
Ogden: The social media takes from those who won’t give the women’s game any credit or suggest that the coverage of the tournament has been a token gesture. Who knows if they will ever open their eyes, but more than 87,000 people turned up at Wembley to watch a truly memorable final, so the critics and cynics are the ones who are missing out.
Hamilton: That England doesn’t squander the legacy. The opportunity provided here to grow the game in the country is one every stakeholder cannot afford to pass up. They have bold targets, including a focus on increasing the numbers of girls playing football in schools. Currently just 43% of girls play the sport in secondary schools (11-18 years old) and the FA plans to increase this to 75% by 2024. These are the sorts of targets which have to be hit, but are just one aspect of the momentum generated by this tournament.
Lawson: I’m sure this will be a shared sentiment among us writers and indeed among all outlets but, that there’s an appetite for women’s football. Major tournaments are vastly different from league football and just because a country goes mad for their national team, that doesn’t mean they’re going to seek out their home league but the football is there for those who have seen enough this summer to put in the effort.
We saw it with the U.S. off of the back of the 2019 World Cup — these tournaments drive investment in the game and with the pandemic rather putting the kibosh on increased attendances and interest, this is another iron hot/striking moment.
Ogden: I hope that stadiums in the Women’s Super League can now welcome capacity crowds and that clubs outgrow their grounds and look to build again. It may be a long path, but there is clearly a massive reservoir of football-supporting women and girls who want to see the sport grow.
It’s a shame that the 2023 World Cup, in Australia and New Zealand, will take place in a time zone that doesn’t lend itself to huge television audiences in Europe and the U.S., but even if a game kicks off at 4 a.m. in the Northern Hemisphere, many more supporters will tune in than before, so that’s a big positive from Euro 2022.