By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer
Football finally came home on Sunday thanks to England’s women.
A year after England’s men’s national team lost the final of the European Championship to Italy at Wembley Stadium in London, the Lionesses avoided the same fate by dropping old enemy Germany 2-1 in the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 decider at the same iconic venue.
Second-half sub Ella Toone opened the scoring for the Lionesses in the 61st minute but Lina Magull sent the match to extra time with a goal 18 minutes later. With the clock ticking and penalty kicks looming, Chloe Kelly converted her own rebound on the doorstep and England held on to capture its first continental crown in either the women’s or men’s game.
The victory is only the second major tournament triumph, men’s or women’s, for the country that claims to have invented the sport. England’s men won their only World Cup at the old Wembley way back in 1966.
Here are three quick thoughts on Sunday’s thrilling finale.
England’s victory a long time coming
And ever since that lone men’s World Cup win, England has been trying to get back on top and “bring football home,” a phrase first coined when the country hosted the men’s Euros in 1996. But it was the women who came the closest first by reaching the final of Euro 2009, before the men finished runner-up to the Azzurri last July. The Lionesses weren’t about to let the same thing happen to them this time.
Still, it didn’t feel that way when Magull potted the equalizer and silenced the expectant crowd of more than 87,000 — the largest ever to witness a European Championship match, men’s or women’s.
The stunned home supporters quickly regrouped, though. They willed their team on during the extra session. After being dominated by the visitors for long stretches of the opening 90 minutes, England were better over the final half hour, as the clearly tiring German side seemed content to settle for the coin-flip of spot kicks. Kelly spoiled those plans by poking the winner past Merle Frohms after the German keeper saved her initial effort.
When the final whistle blew, England had their first title in more than half a century.
Germany loses Popp, then their first final
The first sign that Sunday might not go Germany’s way came during the warmup, when star striker Alexandra Popp was forced to withdraw from manager Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s starting lineup with what the country’s football federation called “a muscular problem.”
Germany still started off brightly with Lea Schüller playing as a central striker instead of Popp, the tournament’s joint top scorer along with England’s Beth Mead. And while they missed her aerial as the match wore on, Voss-Tecklenburg’s team still seemed to have all the momentum after Magull made it 1-1.
They also still have the aura and pedigree of an eight-time European champ. Some considered Germany a surprise finalist after being eliminated in the quarterfinals at both the 2017 Euros and the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. On the other hand, they’d never before lost a continental final.
Add in England’s historic futility on penalty kicks on the men’s side (the Lions have lost seven of 10 all time, including both times they met the Germans) and you had to like the Die Nationalelf’s chances of keeping that record intact as the tiebreaker approached.
Unfortunately for them, Kelly made sure it didn’t get that far.
Lionesses’ golden generation cements their legacy
Win or lose on Sunday, England 2022 was already a colossal success for the women’s game. The matches were exciting, the stadiums packed, and the entire country got behind the home side.
Yet there was also a sense that after all the heartbreak over the decades in major competitions, the Lionesses had to take advantage of this opportunity. With their best and most balanced squad ever, winning this tourney on home soil was always the ultimate goal. It’s why England’s FA hired Sarina Wiegman, who coached her native Netherlands to the last Euro title.
Now that England has ended generations of futility, it will be fun to see how much bigger the women’s game can get in the U.K. It has already begun to explode at the club level in recent years. More interest and investment will surely be forthcoming.
After reaching the mountaintop, you can also be sure that England’s players will become bona fide superstars in their home country, too – if they weren’t already. That’s no less than the likes of veterans Lucy Bronze, Rachel Daly, Ellen White and Jill Scott deserve. The same goes for youngsters like Toone (22) and Kelly (24), who should keep the Lionesses a force on the global scene for many years to come.
One of the leading soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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