England Women will be looking to win their first ever major trophy when they take on Germany Women in the Euro 2022 final on Sunday at 5pm (UK time).
This isn’t the Lionesses’ first visit to a major tournament final but the previous two (both coming at the European Championships) have ended in heartache. The first, often forgotten, final came in the inaugural European Championships in 1984 when England faced Sweden over two legs.
After losing the first match 1-0, England won the return leg 1-0 thanks to Linda Curl’s goal, taking the final to penalties. But unfortunately Curl and Lorraine Hanson missed their spot-kicks while Sweden scored four of their five to take the first ever European Championships trophy back to Scandinavia.
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Fast forward 25 years, England’s second appears at the Euros final came against Sunday’s opponents, just four years after the Lionesses had failed to get out of their group at Euro 2005. Slowly building under Hope Powell, England got out of their group as one of the best third-placed sides before beating Finland and Netherlands in the knockout stages.
But Germany, who had won the previous four European Championships, proved to be a step too far. Having kept themselves within arms length for the opening hour at 3-2, England eventual fell to the German powerhouse with tournament top scorer Inka Grings bagging a brace in the eventual 6-2 win.
This year feels different for England though. Building on the foundations that Powell laid, Sarina Wiegman has a team capable of winning the Euros and they’ve looked unstoppable at times. Since Wiegman replaced Phil Neville at the helm (via Hege Riise) England have won 17 of their 19 matches across all competitions, drawing just twice. They’ve scored 104 goals and conceded just four goals in those 19 matches and have only failed to find the net on one occasion.
At Euro 2022 alone England have scored 20 goals, the second-most of any team at a single tournament behind Germany (of course) at Euro 2009. But that shouldn’t be a stick with which to beat women’s football as some might try, with Liverpool men’s manager Jurgen Klopp praising the quality at Euro 2022.
“I really have to say I love women’s football, it’s outstanding. The quality of the tournament is insane,” he told reporters.
“England is doing exceptionally well. I saw three games of Germany too, they’ve been doing really well as well. It’s a really good final – two intense teams facing each other.
“As much as I love England, my heart is with the German side. At a sold out Wembley with an English crowd, it will be a massive challenge for Germany. England are slight favourites playing at home, but Germany has a chance.”
It’s not just Klopp getting himself into Euro 2022, a lot of stars of the men’s game have been seen showing their support to their nations at the Euros, and some of Gareth Southgate’s England side have even tried to get a ticket to the final – after losing Euro 2020 to Italy last year.
England midfielder Georgia Stanway told BBC Sport: “Quite a lot of the England men have been in touch, just wishing us well and asking if they can have a ticket.
“Sorry lads, we’re all sold out!”
Sunday is set to be a thrilling game between two great sides which will be won and lost in the key battles across the pitch. There are so many to look at, but we’ve highlighted the top three below.
Beth Mead vs Alexandra Popp
A lot of build up for the Euro 2022 final is understandably around England and their chance to win their first major trophy at Wembley. But it needs remembering that they are facing a German side that knows how to win European finals and should not be taken lightly. Like England, they have scored their fair share of goals at Euro 2022, 13 in total including a 4-0 thrashing of Denmark to open the tournament.
At the heart of that Germany attack is Alexandra Popp who, at the age of 31, is playing in her first European Championships. But for those who aren’t too familiar, Popp isn’t a player who bloomed late and has finally been given a chance in the national team, she’s a modern German football legend. Popp made her Germany debut in 2010 but missed Euro 2013 and 2017 due to injury and it looked as though she would miss Euro 2022 for the same reason but fortunately for Die Nationalelf (and everyone else) she made it.
Making up for lost time, Popp has scored six goals at Euro 2022, equalling compatriot Grings for the most goals scored at a single tournament but that’s not all. Popp is also the first player to score in five consecutive games at a Women’s European Championships, putting every opponent she has faced to the sword. And it was her brace against France in the semi-finals that has put Germany on the cusp of winning number nine.
But in the England corner is Beth Mead, who has also scored six goals at Euro 2022 and will be hoping to break Grings’ record on Sunday. Mead has been the best England player under Wiegman by some distance, top scoring with 20 goals and adding a further 12 assists. This comes just over a year after she was left out of Riise’s Team GB squad for the Tokyo Olympics, leaving her in international limbo and angry – which she channelled into having arguably her best ever season for club and country.
While she is joined by Popp at the top of the goalscoring charts for Euro 2022, Mead is outright for most assists, providing four at the tournament so far.
Mary Earps vs Merle Frohms
At the other end of the pitch we have two goalkeepers in top form at Euro 2022 but one will have to leave with a runners-up medal.
Mary Earps has been Wiegman’s No.1 goalkeeper from the start, taking over from Ellie Roebuck who had been first-choice under Phil Neville but started the 2021/22 injured. And Earps has certainly justified Wiegman’s decision, keeping 13 clean sheets in her 16 appearances including four in five at the Euros. Only Janine Beckie, Lieke Martens and Esther Gonzalez have managed to score against Earps under Wiegman, but Germany’s goalkeeper has a slightly more interesting record at Euro 2022.
Like Earps, Merle Frohms has conceded just one goal and kept four clean sheets at Euro 2022 to help Germany reach the final. Her four clean sheets came in each of Germany’s opening four games, as Die Nationalelf looked unbeatable at the back. That run was finally broken in the semi-final against France, but it was actually Frohms who scored against herself. Kadidiatou Diani’s strike from outside the area had Frohms beaten but hit the post, only to rebound back off the Germany goalkeeper and into the back of the net. While we all would have liked to give the goal to Diani for her strike, it did unfortunately go down as Frohms’.
Earps has been slightly busier than Frohms, especially in the knockout stages and was key to England beating both Spain and Sweden. While it may seem bizarre to say that about the latter considering England won 4-0, Sweden could have been 2-0 up before England opened the scoring but for Earps.
One of Earps’ early saves against Sweden earned her comparisons to Manchester United men’s goalkeeper David de Gea (playing for Manchester United Women) and the England shot-stopper revealed her Spanish counterpart has helped her game develop.
“I’ll take that comparison [to De Gea], no problem at all,” she said.
“Me and David speak a little bit. We message back and forth about results and clean sheets and stuff. At Manchester United he’s really supportive of the women’s game. It’s always nice to have his backing.
“It’s really important as a ‘keeper that you develop your own style though, because not everything works. You might see something on TV but it may not work for you. Everyone’s built differently, we all have different strengths.”
Keira Walsh vs Lena Oberdorf
The real battle between England and Germany will surely be in the midfield and two of the best in the game will go head-to-head. For England it’s Keira Walsh, who has started 15 of her 17 appearances for Wiegman, ever-present at the heart of the midfield after recovering from injury. No matter the system, or the partner, it’s Walsh in the middle and she has truly shown her class at Euro 2022.
The Manchester City midfielder has completed 89.6% of her passes at Euro 2022 so far, a metronome in the centre of the pitch, but it isn’t just sideways passes. Walsh can open up an opposition defence with her precision passes, creating six chances and recording one assist, for Stanway’s winner against Spain. Walsh has also made 13 tackles and six interceptions, helping break up play.
Walsh is still only 25 but her opponent this weekend is even younger. Lena Oberdorf, just 20 years old, is one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe right now and was being used as a centre-back for Germany as recently as April 2022. Like Walsh and England, it’s hard to see Germany functioning without Oberdorf in midfield and she was integral to the win over France even though Popp received all the plaudits for scoring.
At Euro 2022 so far, Oberdorf has one assist from three chances created, but more impressive are her 19 tackles and eight interceptions, really tough to beat in the Germany midfield. England need to find a way to bypass her or football won’t be coming home.