By Jack Bantock, CNN
England won its first ever major women’s championship in dramatic fashion, beating Germany 2-1 after extra-time in the Euro 2022 Final at Wembley Stadium.
A record crowd of 87,192 for a European Championship final — men’s or women’s — watched as Chloe Kelly’s first international goal fired the Lionesses to victory over the eight-time winner.
After three defeats at the final hurdle, goals from Kelly and Ella Toone canceled out Lina Magull’s equalizer and sealed the dream ending to a stunning tournament run. A swashbuckling road to the final included a Euro-record 22 goals scored and just two conceded, an 8-0 demolition of world No. 11 Norway and a 4-0 dismantling of the world’s second-highest ranked team Sweden.
With head coach Sarina Wiegman having never lost a European Championship game — nor a game in charge of England — and Germany having never lost a Euro final, one record had to tumble at Wembley, the site of an agonizing defeat for the men’s team at the same stage just over a year ago.
And despite only beating Germany twice in their previous 27 meetings, Wiegman’s players battled to a hard-fought victory to extend the Dutch coach’s impressive streak and spark scenes of pure, unbridled joy at the home of English football.
That euphoria was encapsulated by the celebrations of the matchwinner, who offered up one of the great post-match interviews when she spoke to the BBC. Bouncing around, shouting and dancing, Kelly serenaded viewers with England’s adopted anthem, Neil Diamond’s classic “Sweet Caroline,” before running off with the microphone.
Upon her eventual return, the Manchester City forward — having suffered an ACL injury in May last year — reflected on the peak of the ultimate comeback story.
“Honestly, it’s amazing,” she said. “This is what dreams are made of. As a young girl watching women’s football, this is amazing. Thank you to everyone who played a part in my rehab. I always believed I would be here.”
Captain Leah Williamson added: “I just can’t stop crying. We talk, we talk and we talk and we finally done it … this is the proudest moment of my life.
“The legacy of this tournament is the change in society. The legacy of this team is winners and that is the journey. I love every single one of you, I’m so proud to be English.”
Victory marked the culmination of a 13-year-long redemption arc for midfielder Jill Scott, the only member of the Lionesses squad to have featured in the 6-2 mauling suffered at the hands of Germany in the 2009 final.
Subbed on towards the end of regular time, the 35-year-old became the first England player to have played in two major international finals.
“I actually can’t believe it,” Scott said. “We have an incredible group of staff. What a day. The young players have been fantastic, so grateful for every moment of this team.
“I don’t think I’m going to sleep this week!”
As congratulations poured in across social media, men’s captain Harry Kane tweeted his appreciation, with particular praise for Toone, whose deftly chipped finish had put England ahead in the second-half.
“Absolutely unreal scenes at Wembley!! Massive congrats to the amazing Lionesses,” Kane said. “Ella Toone take a bow for that finish too.”
There was also a message of congratulations from Queen Elizabeth II, who lauded the team for inspiring the next generation.
“The Championships and your performance in them have rightly won praise,” she said. “However, your success goes far beyond the trophy you have so deservedly earned.
“You have all set an example that will be an inspiration for girls and women today, and for future generations. It is my hope that you will be as proud of the impact you have had on your sport as you are of the result today.”
Injury agony for Popp
Germany was struck a heartbreaking blow moments before kick-off when star striker Alexandra Popp, joint-top scorer at the tournament with six goals, suffered a muscle injury in the warm-up.
Replaced in the starting 11 by Lea Schüller, it marked a devastating end to what had been a heartwarming redemption story for the 31-year-old. After missing the previous two Euros through injury, Popp had made up for lost time emphatically, matching the record for best goal tally at the tournament — set by compatriot Inka Grings in 2009 — with a game to spare.
Popp’s visible anguish as she left the pitch served as a stark contrast to the euphoric atmosphere of a sold-out Wembley Stadium as kick-off edged closer, with singers Becky Hill, Steflon Don and Ultra Naté taking to the center circle to host the pre-match show.
With the surrounding area of the ground teeming with fans and flags several hours before kick-off, it was a fitting build-up to the close of a tournament that had smashed records well before the trophy had been lifted.
The total of 487,683 fans that had attended the games preceding the final more than doubled the previous tournament attendance record set at Euro 2017 in the Netherlands.
And that was before the historic numbers boost at Wembley, which smashed the existing high for a men’s or women’s Euro final set at Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in 1964.
Buoyed by home support, England started on the front foot. Fran Kirby carved out an early chance with a teasing cross for Ellen White at the back post, but the Manchester City forward could only direct her header into the arms of Merle Frohms.
It would mark the first of a string of opportunities for White in a cagey first half of few gilt-edge chances, with both defenses continuing the iron-fisted form that had seen them arrive at Wembley having conceded just once all tournament.
Aggravated by a quick succession of yellow cards for Georgia Stanway and White, frustration quickly turned to fear for England as a flicked on corner caused carnage on the goal line. Pinballing around inches from the line, the ball looked destined to settle in the net before it was gratefully smothered by England keeper Mary Earps.
Dealing with players’ complaints would set the tone for a busy day for referee Kateryna Monzul, who dished out six yellow cards and stopped play for 36 fouls throughout a combative, hard-fought contest.
England’s best chance of the half came five minutes before the break as a cut back from Beth Mead found White surging into the box, but the off-balance 33-year-old couldn’t keep her shot down.
It was Germany’s turn to fly out of the blocks following the restart, with Tabea Wassmuth almost punishing Millie Bright for a miscommunication just two minutes into the second half. But having raced away down the left, Wassmuth could only fire her shot straight at Earps.
Wiegman rang the changes as Germany continued its fast start, Kirby and White making way for Toone and Alessia Russo. With four goals — all from the bench — Russo had been the tournament’s unofficial ‘golden’ sub before the final, but it was Toone who would steal the crown at Wembley.
After a perfectly weighted long ball from Keira Walsh split the German defense, the Manchester United attacker found herself in the clear, faced by the onrushing form of Frohms. Her response? The most exquisite of chips that lifted over the goalkeeper and in.
If the finish was deft, the response was anything but, as Wembley erupted in ecstatic scenes not witnessed under the arch since Luke Shaw’s strike had fired the men’s team into an early lead at the opposite end of the pitch just over a year ago.
Like so many England tournaments before, that story ended in tears, and another painful chapter looked on course to be penned when Magull fired home a deserved equalizer 10 minutes from time.
With Wiegman’s side dropping ever deeper to protect their advantage, the pressure finally broke when a well-worked move saw Wassmuth slide a low cross into the Bayern Munich midfielder at the near post, who smartly poked into the roof of the net to level.
Magull went close again in a nail-biting finish to regular time, with the euphoric atmosphere mere minutes ago replaced by one of nervous tension, broken momentarily by a rousing reception for the introduction of Scott.
Tempers flared during a nervy extra-time of few chances and many crunching tackles, with Scott involved in an angry exchange with Sydney Lohmann after she had tripped the German.
As legs tired and penalties crept closer, England forced a corner with 10 minutes to play. Lucy Bronze knocked the ball down into the path of Kelly who, after one missed swipe, poked the ball over the line for her first international goal at the most timely of times.
Cue pure bedlam, momentarily frozen by Kelly pausing to check with referee Monzul that her goal had counted. Ripping off her shirt in celebration, the 24-year-old was issued with what will surely be the most warmly received yellow card of her career.
Dogged efforts to keep the ball in the corner ran down the clock as the Wembley crowd willed their players over the line, Monzul’s final whistle sparking the biggest roar yet.
Right on time, “Three Lions” blasted through the stadium speakers. After 56 years of hurt, football had — at last — come home.
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