There will never be a year quite like 2022. Of that, I am quite certain.
As I sit here reflecting into the early hours of New Year’s Eve, I occasionally have to pinch myself to remember it happened. As with all memories, they fade to the point where they can sometimes feel like a dream. That’s what this year, and this summer in particular, really were…a dream.
Sweden left it late as they booked a place in the semi-finals of Euro 2022 with a 1-0 victory over Belgium. An injury time goal from Linda Sembrant saw the world’s no. two side set up a meeting with England on Tuesday at Bramall Lane.
Despite a stern test from Austria, Germany booked their place in the semi-finals with a 2-0 victory over their close neighbours. Goals in either half from Lina Magull and Alexandra Popp will see the Germans head to Milton Keynes next Wednesday to face either France or the Netherlands.
With a sea of yellow bouncing through the streets of Sheffield, Sweden made a raucous return to Bramall Lane. A narrow victory over Switzerland on Wednesday put them in prime position for qualfication to the quarter-finals.
It was a night beyond any England fans’ imaginations. Sitting in the stadium, soaking in the atmosphere after the final whistle, it was hard not be filled with wonder about what we had just witnessed. For Sarina Wiegman and her Lionesses had just produced one of the most stunning performances in the competition to sweep aside a nation that will have been considered one of the strongest.
Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s Germany side have at times slipped under the radar in the build-up to this tournament. A poor performance in the Arnold Clark Cup earlier this year – with the context of a heavily depleted squad – and a far from outstanding World Cup qualifying campaign have left fans and pundits alike wondering which team will show up.
It was a quintessential David and Goliath story as Norway and Northern Ireland kicked off their Euro 2022 at St. Mary’s on Friday evening. The tournament’s dark horses against the newcomers, making history with their inaugural major tournament. The result was perhaps predictable – Norway ran out 4-1 winners – but the moment belonged to Northern Ireland.
“Incredible. There are no more words. This is unbelievable,” lauded Sarina Wiegman as she sat in the press room after watching her England side open Euro 2022 at Old Trafford.
The same emotions will have been felt by many. Wednesday was a night like no other. The reception at the start, the booming renditions of Sweet Caroline, the 68,000 or so people singing and cheering along. It was one of those special moments, one to add to those events that imprint themselves in your memory for life.
“Relentless”, “attacking” and “exciting” were just a few of the words Gemma Davies, England U19s manager, used to describe her group of players on the eve of their first international championship. They showed these characteristics in abundance in a winning opening display – a 4-1 victory against Norway – that will have instilled a huge amount of confidence in this young side.
We’re used to managers and players playing down big or notable fixtures. “It’s just another game” they’ll say, “We’ll focus on ourselves”. But there is no denying that tomorrow’s friendly is going to be something special with it being the first time that England manager, Sarina Wiegman, will face her old side and homeland, the Netherlands.