It took scoring one of the more beautiful goals in any final, giving up one just about as good, and then winning it with one at the opposite end of the artful spectrum, as scrappy as you can get. It took wading through just about every narrative that England’s women’s national team had to carry into and through this final, most if not all not having much to do with them in the least. But there was always a sense this England team was different, that they could punch through a national psyche that always seems more at home (get it?) in glorious defeat than coming to terms with victory, and so it proved. England won Euro 2022, and football came home. If this football’s home is truly England…which…well, we’ll get to that.
While Germany didn’t get the buzz before the tournament that the hosts, or Spain, or France did, perhaps it was just out of boredom of always having to include Germany in any discussion. Germany is always there, and certainly was England’s biggest challenge in this tournament. Alexandra Popp’s shocking withdrawal at the last possible moment after injuring herself in warmups colors the final ever so slightly, because one can’t help but wonder, with some of the chances and all the corners Germany created, what would have been the result had she been on the business end of them. But players get hurt in tournaments, adjustments always have to be made, depth tested, and this one was no different.
And this one was a stalemate for most of the match, and turned pretty chippy, as referee Kateryna Monzul decided if weaponry wasn’t produced, it didn’t merit a foul (and certainly wouldn’t merit a yellow, especially as the Germans were only too happy to kick just about everything that moved). It led to a pretty stodgy viewing affair, with not much actual soccer being played for more than a couple passes in a row at best before someone hit the turf.
While the pre-match talk was about the two Golden Boot contenders in Popp and Beth Mead being on the same field, it always felt like the game would hinge more on which defensive midfielder would get the game under control. Germany’s Lena Oberdorf deservedly took home the Young Player Of The Tournament award, and was essentially a mechanical bull in the middle of the park, as England players were flying off of her at every turn, just like every other opponent of hers had found this month. While her opposite number in Keira Walsh isn’t quite the wrecking ball, she is England’s metronome, and both Spain and Sweden took special care to make sure she could rarely, if ever, get her head up to…well, do stuff like this:
Obedorf had marked Fran Kirby out of the game and into the Tube somewhere, but the only time she or the German central defense lost their mark was when Toone ran off her here. Walsh only needed one look, though obviously the finish borders on obscene.
It was a surprise life jacket for England, as the second half had seen Germany start to really lean on England and create a few chances. Normally teams trying to cut off passes to Walsh had allowed defenders Millie Bright and Leah Williamson to send passes through those lines to Kirby, Stanway, or either of England’s hellish wingers. But both Bright and Williamson were a little off their games today and those passes went loose far more often. And as possession turned over and over back to Germany more and more, England was gasping until the goal.
And after it, as they tried to hang on but couldn’t. Again, both Spain and Sweden had targeted Rachel Daly on England’s left — Spain to the point where Daly had to be subbed off in an act of mercy — and that’s where Germany’s goal came from:
And from here the gremlins started popping up and running wild in everyone’s minds. Penalties against Germany? Would England once again suffer at the hands of the rigidness of its manager? Sarina Wiegman had turned England into this monster, and her steady hand was exactly what was required from the host nation. The football she has engineered for this team to play has been stunning at times (and making former manager Phil Neville to be the dingus we always knew he was). But you could write her substitution pattern down from memory: Ella Toone and Alessia Russo on early in the second half, Chloe Kelly and Jill Scott late in the second half, maybe Nikita Parris too (though she’ll point to Toone and Kelly scoring the goals and suggest I get fucked, and she’d be right).
But before Kelly saved them, it was right to wonder whether insisting on starting Ellen White, who looked a half-step off all tourney, was the right call. Or whether the trigger should have been pulled on Daly earlier or from the start. Doing things because that’s just how you’ve done them generally isn’t an answer. Is for now, however.
Though one of those gremlin narratives might have saved England. Because Germany, after bossing the first half of extra time, seemed to accept penalties as the outcome they would most prefer in the second half, because it’s Germany and it’s England, stupid. Right? England got more into it, got a corner, and then Chloe Kelly earned herself free pints for life:
And also maybe the most iconic photo in England’s football history:
From there it was some of the most delicious shithousery and time-wasting from Kelly and Lucy Bronze on the right side of England, who seemingly drained the last five minutes on the clock straight from the corner flag by themselves.
England has won something. It’s such a strange sentence, but a pretty glorious one. While the FA’s barring women from playing the game for so long is what left them so far behind, and the ways the women’s game has been treated for so long everywhere a blight, maybe the best thing about being in this time frame is to witness nations, fans, teams, players do things for the first time. Sure, it took too long and is still too slow, but there is a unique joy to seeing something happen first. England’s first win, the fans it will generate, where their domestic WSL could go. There’s an unrestrained nature to it that creates a salty discharge from one’s ocular cavity.
England isn’t really women’s football’s home, given the treatment of the past. But it can certainly rent there for a bit.