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Thursday, August 11, 2022

Women´s Euros: History, contenders and storylines to follow as Spain lead challengers to hosts Engla

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Five years after Sarina Wiegman’s Netherlands team triumphed on home turf at the European Championship, Sarina Wiegman’s England begin among the favourites to … triumph on home turf.

Wiegman’s switch to coach the Lionesses has served as a key sub-plot to the tournament, which will put women’s football in the spotlight throughout July.

It gets under way when England play Austria at Old Trafford on Wednesday, women taking the spotlight in a year when the men’s World Cup unusually takes place in November and December.

Almost 120,000 spectators attended games when England’s north west staged Euro 2005; however, the overwhelming majority were either at games featuring England, or at the final between Germany and Norway at Blackburn Rovers’ Ewood Park.

That meant some games were sparsely attended, with just 957 spectators seeing France beat Italy in the group stages in Preston. This time, with the tournament boosted from eight to 16 teams since England were last hosts, over 500,000 tickets have been sold, meaning near-empty stadiums should be a thing of the past.

Here, Stats Perform looks at what to expect from the 26-day finals.

German dominance gives way as rest of Europe catches up

Germany used to be the queens of the Women’s Euros, but their crown has slipped. After winning six consecutive titles, the Germans fell short at Euro 2017 when they lost to eventual runners-up Denmark in the quarter-finals.

It was all rather end-of-an-era stuff, with the rise of professionalism across Europe’s most powerful and forward-thinking footballing nations only likely to be further in evidence this year. Germany, of course, are included among those powerhouses, but they have plenty of company now at the top table.

The Dutch hosts roared to glory at Euro 2017, with Vivianne Miedema scoring twice in a 4-2 victory over the Danes in the final, having demolished Mark Sampson’s England 3-0 to reach that stage. Miedema joined Arsenal shortly before that tournament and has become the Women’s Super League’s record scorer while with the Gunners, the defining player of the blossoming WSL.

This is a tournament that was first officially staged in 1984, with Sweden beating England on penalties in Luton after the teams finished tied on aggregate after home and away ties.

From the second staging in 1987 through to 1997, the tournament was staged every two years, with Norway triumphing in 1987 and 1993. Germany – and West Germany in 1989 – otherwise swept the board and continued to do so when it became a quadrennial championship.

The mighty Germans dismissed England 6-2 in the 2009 final in Helsinki, with a Lionesses team that included Alex Scott, Kelly Smith, Karen Carney, Eni Aluko, Fara Williams and Casey Stoney overwhelmed. Another survivor from that match, veteran midfielder Jill Scott, features in Wiegman’s squad this year.

Mighty Spain top list of trophy contenders

Spain are favourites with the bookmakers, and what a team they are, built on classic foundations of players from Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. Their sensational midfielder Alexia Putellas could own this tournament, but the Spanish rise was checked by Barcelona’s stunning defeat to Lyon in the Champions League final.

French outfit Lyon have been established titans of the women’s game for years, but Barcelona looked to have surpassed them, winning all 30 of their Primera Division games last season in a display of their might. Yet on the biggest club stage of all, Barcelona, with their many Spain stars, were caught cold and slumped to a 3-1 loss.

That should give Spain’s Euros rivals some hope, as should the blow that Spain suffered when star forward Jennifer Hermoso was ruled out by a knee injury.

There are plenty of credible challengers, with hosts England among them. Since Wiegman replaced Phil Neville, England have won every match under their new coach, including a 5-1 victory over the Netherlands at Elland Road in June, and they should be able to handle group games against Austria, Norway and Northern Ireland.

Expect the familiar European giants to contend. Women’s football is gradually becoming big business, and the richest countries are building the best facilities and funding the game on a professional level, which is a far cry from how the game was a decade ago.

England go Dutch, Dutch go English, Scandinavians on a mission

France have left national team greats Amandine Henry and Eugenie Le Sommer out of their squad, so how they cope without that illustrious duo remains to be seen, while England are without long-standing former captain and defensive mainstay Steph Houghton, who was judged not fit enough by Wiegman after an injury lay-off.

The hosts have Barcelona’s new recruit Lucy Bronze, another rock of their team for many years, while the likes of winger Lauren Hemp and strikers Ella Toone and Alessia Russo should announce themselves on the big stage. Not for the first time, England look forward-heavy, with question marks over their midfield strength. New captain Leah Williamson attended the last Euros as a fan, so this is a significant step up.

While England are coached by a Dutchwoman, the Netherlands are bossed by Englishman Mark Parsons, who had a long spell with the Portland Thorns before replacing Wiegman. The reigning champions are contenders again, given the presence of Miedema and the mercurial Lieke Martens, who has traded Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain in the off-season. The thumping by England was a jolt, but don’t read too much into that result.

Denmark’s Pernille Harder and Norway’s Ada Hegerberg are superstar strikers in teams that might cause a surprise, Sweden sit second in the FIFA rankings so rightly fancy their chances, and then you have Germany. The eight-time winners lack the star power of their rivals and must play Denmark and Spain in the group stage, but their squad is packed with experience, so count them out at your peril.

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