Back in early July, as this summer’s main event got underway, we made some predictions about what might happen at the semi-final stage. Since then, we’ve seen some huge victories and crushing defeats, couple of big names exit early, some classic clashes in the quarter finals, and the Lionesses have gained new followers along the way.
So, before tonight’s big match between England and Sweden and tomorrow’s clash between fierce rivals Germany and France, we’re revisiting them and giving our Sunderland writers and podcasters the chance to revise their pre-tournament ball-gazing - as well as hearing from Editor Gav, who has caught the bug as the excitement as built, and new writer Amelia Laybourn.
Here’s what they had to say...
Roker Report Women’s Football Editor, Rich Speight
Predicted this semi-final lineup...
What we’ve seen this month is the four powerhouses of European women’s football have ultimately emerging as those that will compete for the big prize. Strength in depth has been the telling factor; all four relatively high baselines and low variability of quality across their squads. They don't really have weak links, and this means that other factors come into play, especially the crowd and the coaching.
And it is these elements that underline my confidence that England will prevail tonight in Sheffield, despite Sweden’s considerable talents and brilliant track record. They struggled to overcome an average Belgium team and we have multiple options in all positions and the person I believe to be the best tactician in women’s football in the dugout.
Plus, when it comes to the big occasions and the crucial moments, we’re just smashing it. We have that confidence and drive - we’re riding the wave and it’s still got a way to travel before it breaks.
I also still think that, with a crowd of 90,000 behind them on Sunday, Beth Mead, Lucy Bronze, Jill Scott and Demi Stokes will lift the trophy - probably after extra time against the wonderfully powerful Germany who I think will have too much variety for France.
Both head and heart are pointing in the right direction and, as I walk up to the national stadium this weekend, believe I will do so with the same confidence I did when the Lads played there in May.
Alex Neil and Sarina Wiegman give of that similar air of self-assuredness and belief in their own methods and their squads’ talents. Everything they say and do purveys one simple message - “we’ve got this”.
She Kicks Magazine Editor, Jen O’Neill
Admirer of the Swedes...
My favourites coming into the tournament were Sweden. They were the highest-ranked and most consistently successful group of players pre-tournament, having won Silver in 2016 in Rio under Pia Sundhage, then Bronze in 2019 in France and Silver again in Tokyo last summer as a much more attacking outfit under the well-liked Peter Gerhardsson.
They were by far the strongest team in Japan, their opening destruction of the USA was something else and only missed out on Gold after being held by an ultra-defensive Canada and then beaten on penalties.
Their starting 11 is experienced (goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl is at her 14th major international tournament and Caroline Seger her 13th, as Europe’s most-capped player male or female) and strong, with a spine through the side to rival any other in the competition.
However, other than playmaker Kosovare Asllani, they have so far failed to really impress. A worry, of course, is that they finally find their form against England, a team they have beaten 2-0 and 2-1 in their last two meetings.
Coach Gerhardsson has them well-drilled and they love to play against a transitional team rather than a low block (like Belgium presented), so England very much suit them as opponents and they are not afraid of the big stage. An important question mark lies over whether the full-backs (Glas and Andersson) who tested positive for COVID at the end of last week are available.
If so, I expect them to play with a back five/wingbacks. Without those two players they look vulnerable in defence and with the pace and guile down the flanks that Hemp, Mead and Kelly provide, it is something England can exploit. If England don’t shrink under the limelight then I see no reason why they can’t go on to win this semi-final.
And with the confidence and momentum of that victory, we are set for a wonderful final, which surely, with home advantage, England have a real chance to win!
The second semi-final includes Germany, who I think have been the most impressive team as a whole and certainly defensible having not conceded and with an excellent keeper in Merle Frohms. Whereas France, if you only take the first 45 minutes of each of their games, have been by far the best attacking unit. It’s fascinating and we really have got the best four sides in the competition, battling it out for a place in the final.
I think it’s difficult sometimes, as an English person who has followed the English side for so many years, to evaluate our players and our team objectively. For too long I/we have revered other nations and their players and so often put them above our own.
Is this an incorrect position? Possibly and certainly now more than ever and that’s what’s so tantalising to discover.
Maybe our players ARE some of the best in Europe. Maybe this team IS the best in Europe and with a coach like Sarina Wiegman and the fearless young talent and passion and quality of the older players and a late comeback win against Spain that has galvanised the group even more they know that everything is possible until the last kick of the game. So yes, England certainly can win the Euros.
Will it be easy, will it be straightforward? Far from it. Will it be exciting? You bet.
What was it like to be in the press box at the Amex for the #Lionesses win over Norway on Monday night? @SheKicksdotnet tells us on the latest @RokerReport Lasses Podcast #WEURO2022 update.— Roker Report - The Lasses (@RRLasses) July 13, 2022
OUT NOW https://t.co/dvydDLdz9t #HawayTheLionesses | #SAFC ❤️ pic.twitter.com/0St07Ee0tu
Roker Report gaffer, Gav Henderson
New to this game...
As someone who has never professed to know a great deal about the women’s game I think I’d be wrong to make any bold predictions here. However, I have seen a fair few of the games in this tournament and one thing that I don’t think can be questioned is the heart and desire of the England players to do their absolute best for their country - whether that be whitewashing an early tournament favourite in Norway, or battling hard in a game they were second best in for the most part to win in the most dramatic of fashions against Spain last time out.
The fact that the Lionesses have the home advantage gives them a massive leg up when it comes to any game I think, and that has to come into play for the semi final and, if they get there, the final.
I watched the Norway game and it seemed clearly to me that the Norwegian players were simply swallowed up by the atmosphere and the occasion - and that’s something I suspect England need to play on again if they’re going to succeed.
One game at a time. It’s pointless wondering if they’re going to win the thing if they don’t make it past the semis.
Roker Report’s new writer, Amelia Laybourn
Sees the French as the big threat to England...
Heading into the tournament, I remember anticipating the crowds, the support , and the football - but, it is safe to say, it has defied all expectations.
We all know the depth and the cover the England team have in almost every position, and, prior to the competition, I struggled to see a side able to match both our attacking form and pace.
After consideration, France were the only team I could see getting close to us - and so they have. I can see us facing them in the final. They have equally strong threats in attack and a solid defence, but nothing the lasses can’t overcome.
It’s a tough call, and won’t come without a fight - but, I do believe we have what it takes. Our form coupled with sheer determination and strength is enough to take us the win, and I truly hope it does.
Roker Report regular, Graham Field...
Is now a believer!
I tipped France to win the Euros, but I really hope that England can get the job done. They’ve been superb.
It’s almost been the perfect tournament for the squad in so many ways. To comfortably win the group was excellent, but the way the team kept going against Spain, to eventually get a win was outstanding. I think what the squad has done has convinced me, that come Sunday, they’ll be the winners of the tournament.
The options that Wiegman has from the bench gives me the confidence that when games are perhaps going against or away from them, they can turn things back their way. Sweden will be another intriguing game and that quality bench is again going to be crucial. Get the win and we’re nearly there.
Roker Report podcaster, Ant Waterson...
Isn’t counting his chickens just yet!
Like Gav, I don’t want to make a prediction about who is going to win the tournament as all four teams have merits. England have shown they have the ability to blow teams away and to grind the results out.
The Spain game however did give me slight course for concern. Spain were the catalyst for their own downfall with the baffling substitutions made during the game. However, the introduction of Russo, Toone and perhaps most importantly Greenwood, gave England the lift they deserved.
They will need to raise the bar again against very good Sweden side. But, England are finding ways to win games and that can only bode well for the rest of the tournament.