After an invigorating game of football, the Lionesses took one step closer to the final, and a historical victory for both women, and the national team themselves.
The packed-out Amex stadium fell into choruses of Sweet Caroline, ringing out from the touchline to the terraces after what can only be described as pure magic.
Arguably, this was the Lionesses toughest game of the Euros, and perhaps was always going to be.
Undoubtably, it was always going to be challenging to follow in the footsteps of 5-0 and 8-0 victories, however, the game did not disappoint when it came to excitement…
The nation was left on tenterhooks from the moment Esther Gonzalez put Spain 1-0 up, till the minute Stanway settled the restless contest for good.
The 7.8 million television viewers plus another 1.5 million on iPlayer (a peak for women’s competitive football) were put through an emotional rollercoaster, but, not without its undeniable high points and some unforgettable moments.
Throughout the 124 minutes the Lionesses were on the pitch, they threw themselves into the game, and the hearts of the nation – perhaps the largest achievement of the evening.
All whilst solidifying themselves a place in the semis, they firmly gained support from British royalty, football royalty and everything in between.
The evening had been a tense one, with the lasses close to being knocked out of the tournament and, considering England have reached 3 consecutive semi-finals since 2015, a quarter-final exit which, until the score line was levelled looked likely – would’ve been unthinkable.
Crashing out of the Euros eleven days before a sold-out Wembley final would’ve been an untenable scenario – but the tenacity of those on the pitch ensured it was one the nation would not have to live out.
The first 40 minutes of the game did not instil those watching with much hope and the Lionesses went most of the first half without a shot, on or off target! In a half mostly dominated (possession wise) by the Spaniards, it was a tricky watch.
Nevertheless, the ball did enter Paños’ net – just not in the way we wanted, with the offside flag being soon raised – and, rightly so. Despite the disappointment of the false alarm, it was pleasing to see White capitalising on Hemp’s free kick after a dry half of football.
Half time came, and with it, time for the team to regroup and consolidate – addressing the highs and lows of the half, and how to move forward. And onwards they went, with a new bout of energy and confidence after a joyous welcome from the crowd.
Shortly after half time, a strange interlude from the testing match occurred when a rogue pitch invader attempted to tie themselves to Earp’s goalpost. The protestor was shortly bundled to the ground by the fast-acting stewards, and so the fight continued, and the lasses pushed on.
Shortly after one crisis, another one was stirring. Moments after the pitch invasion, disaster struck for England when Esther Gonzalez slotted in the opening goal, after Athenea del Castillo rather easily took the ball past Rachel Daly on the right wing.
The goal that could have proved fatal was only the first the Lionesses had conceded in a competitive competition since the 2019 World Cup and only the fourth overall since Wiegman’s arrival 10 months ago.
The Spanish fans were forced into celebrations after Gonzalez rolled the ball into the corner, and, considering the team have been knocked out at every ¼ final stage of the past two European championships, their dreams did not show signs of ceasing.
Initially, it felt like a major blow, but, as the team regrouped, the fans cheered a little louder, and once they began pressing forward, and subsequently hope was regained.
In the face of adversity, the hosts responded defiantly, and, with the help of Chloe Kelly and Man United duo Ella Toone and Alessia Russo, started to show signs of bouncing back.
The substitutions began to mount pressure, instantly knocking back Spain’s defence, allowing Toone’s solid finish to rip through the backline effortlessly.
It was this goal that initiated a reaction rarely seen at a women’s game of football. Like a force of nature, the packed-out stadium, with over 28,000 dedicated fans erupted into cheers of joy and… pure relief.
But, with an equaliser also comes a sense of panic and an unnerving desire for your team to clinch the winner. It was up to a certain Bayern Munich attacking midfielder to settle that panic, and, in the events to follow, she did.
Extra time rolled around, and the moment we’d all been waiting for did too. It was in the sixth minute of extra time, Georgia Stanway finally had time to breathe.
The game had been tight knit in both score line, and play, but the asphyxiation finally lifted – allowing her to break free from Bonmati, who had been tightly pressing her throughout the game.
As though in slow motion, she paused, lifted her right leg back… entrusting in both the curve and slight backspin that followed the ball in its path. And…
...the rest is history.
Perhaps, it was both the balance between teamwork, and timing, that lead to that emphatic long-range strike that made it so wonderful.
One strike that threw the country into timeless celebration, and regardless of what follows, with records broken, and memories made, will almost certainly see this Lionesses squad entered into the football history books.
Ha’way the Lionesses!