England’s Lionesses have roared into the quarter-finals of Euro 2022 after thrashing Norway 8-0 — and if you didn’t already know the players bidding for home glory, it’s time to get acquainted.
Sarina Wiegman’s side made a low-key start to the tournament at an expectant Old Trafford, a bumper crowd of 68,871 proving the headline act as they beat Austria 1-0, but Monday’s Brighton obliteration of a side ranked just three places below them was a display to make the most casual of observers sit up and take notice.
No side in the history of a European Championship — men’s or women’s — has scored eight goals in a single game and the result continued an eye-catching run of form under Wiegman: played 16, won 14, goals against 3, goals for… a staggering ninety-three.
Northern Ireland are up next in the side’s final group game on Friday, July 15, but England fans will have their sights set much further. From the player who installed an oxygen tent to get fit to the star rubbing shoulders with Lionel Messi, The Athletic runs through the side that stunned Norway…
Mary Earps (goalkeeper, Manchester United)
Wiegman’s No 1 swapped Bundesliga side Wolfsburg for Manchester United in 2019, but still listens to German podcasts to keep up her linguistic skills. The 29-year-old was named in the 2017 Euros and 2019 World Cup squads, but is featuring for the first time at a major tournament. England’s safe hands has a broad skillset off the pitch, too: an information management and business studies degree from Loughborough University — and a junior black belt in judo.
Lucy Bronze (defender, Barcelona)
Overcame early knee injuries and squeezed in shifts at Domino’s Pizza between university studies and training en route to becoming one of the most recognisable names in the game and England’s most decorated current player. The gallivanting right-back won three Champions League titles and FIFA’s The Best award while at Lyon, lifted the FAWSL title, Continental Tyres League Cup and Women’s FA Cup while at Manchester City, and joined Lionel Messi and Paul Pogba in a Pepsi campaign. This summer brought a bumper move to Barcelona but a trophy for England is the missing piece in her career jigsaw.
Millie Bright (defender, Chelsea)
A consistent performer for Chelsea at centre-back, playing the full 90 minutes of all 13 games in which Emma Hayes’ WSL champions recorded a clean sheet last season. She’s a stalwart of Wiegman’s defence too, muscling opponents off their stride and heading anything that comes her way. Off the pitch, she’s a handy equestrienne whose family has a stable full of horses back in Yorkshire.
Leah Williamson (defender/midfielder, Arsenal)
Williamson played just six minutes at the 2019 World Cup but fast forward three years and she is captaining England at her first major tournament, the Tokyo Olympics aside. The 25-year-old has dropped back into defence where her progressive passing allows her to fulfil a quarterback-style role but she exerts influence wherever she is deployed. She infamously once had to retake a penalty five days after it had initially been converted and wrongly ruled out at a European Under-19s Championship qualifier, so while she has admitted to studying other sporting captains — including England cricketer Ben Stokes — for tips, she’s already shown she’s got ample bottle for the big moments.
Rachel Daly (defender, Houston Dash)
Daly thrives as a forward for her club but has spent the majority of her England career filling in at right-back behind Bronze or shifted to left-back, such is her reliability. The 30-year-old has a tattoo featuring lyrics from the Leeds anthem ‘Marching On Together’ and dedicated her recent 50th England cap to her late father Martyn. She played and scored in a record 10-0 win against Luxembourg just days after her loss.
Georgia Stanway (midfielder, Bayern Munich)
When a secondary school careers adviser asked Stanway what she wanted to be, she replied: “A footballer.” The response? “No — what do you really want to do? You won’t be a footballer.” Stanway gave that short shrift, even though — as her brother recently told The Athletic — it meant a five-hour round trip from Barrow to Blackburn three times a week for training. Stanway was the youngest player in England’s 2019 World Cup squad but this time, is one of the more experienced players in camp. The Bayern Munich summer signing likes to shoot on sight but has developed her game to thrive in a more composed holding midfielder role.
Keira Walsh (midfielder, Manchester City)
Described by former City manager Nick Cushing as the “best in the world in that role by far”, the holding midfielder often goes under the radar for club and country. A best friend of Williamson from childhood, Walsh reckons she is “shy and awkward” — but her quiet quality patrolling the middle third, snuffing out attacks and enabling progression through the lines, is usually pivotal.
Fran Kirby (midfielder, Chelsea)
Kirby made a name for herself at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada when she set the tournament alight, scoring the opening goal in England’s 2-1 win over Mexico and helping them claim a bronze medal. That performance earned the player whose time at Reading had spawned hefty goal haul after hefty goal haul a then record-transfer move to Chelsea, where she last season averaged a goal or assist every 71.8 minutes — the best rate of any English player. Kirby has been plagued by injuries and illness, including the diagnosis of pericarditis, a condition affecting the fluid-filled sac around the heart. But England are a better side with her clever movement and passing in it — and she even used an oxygen tent to get ready for the tournament.
Beth Mead (forward, Arsenal)
“She’s so hard to defend against, she can go either way,” said Arsenal boss Jonas Eidevall when watching the dancing feet that preceded Mead’s second of the night. Mead is motivated and how it shows. After missing out on the Team GB squad for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and falling out of the England squad under interim head coach Hege Riise, her blistering response has felt like a personal vendetta. She made a mockery of her expected goal data in the WSL and has been England’s most efficient player in the 2023 World Cup qualifying campaign, with 12 goals and eight assists. That’s what you’ve been missing. Feeling inspired? Mead sponsors a scholarship at Teesside University.
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) July 11, 2022
Ellen White (forward, Manchester City)
One of England’s most experienced players and now the country’s record goalscorer, this is White’s eighth major tournament representing either England or Team GB. She announced herself on the international stage with an audacious goal against Japan in her first World Cup in 2011, shared the golden boot at the 2019 World Cup, and practically carried Team GB on her back with six goals in Tokyo last year. White might have had an underwhelming season at City but she becomes a different animal at major tournaments, her body strength, link-up play and penalty-box movement making her an enduring threat.
Lauren Hemp (forward, Manchester City)
How grateful Manchester City and England must be that Hemp, with her mesmerising low centre of gravity and dizzying dribbles, ditched the crease for a decidedly different ball. She used to have one-on-one coaching at 7:30am before school, but these days is making defenders forget what day it is. The four-time PFA Women’s Young Player of the Year was told by Wiegman to “express herself” this summer, and onlookers have already been treated. Her mantra? “Whenever I’ve got the ball, always the first thing I (think) is, ‘Can I drive at a player?’”
England’s supporting cast
Sarina Wiegman had the luxury of making a raft of changes as her side romped towards the last eight.
Manchester City defender Alex Greenwood, who made more successful passes (1,656) than any other player in the WSL last season, was given vital minutes, while former City player Jill Scott — coffee shop-owner and the WSL’s all-time leading appearance-maker — was also given a run-out.
Wiegman’s squad is bursting with attacking talent and there were second-half appearances for Manchester United pair Ella Toone — top of the assist charts last term — and United’s top scorer, the bustling Alessio Russo, who took just a handful of minutes to get on the score sheet.
City winger Chloe Kelly, so cruelly injured just as she was hitting form, also made a heart-warming cameo after defying the gruelling rehab of an anterior cruciate ligament injury to make it back in time for the tournament.
It was a reminder of England’s formidable strength in depth on a night when Wiegman wondered, ‘What’s going on here?’ and her rivals were likely left stunned, too.
(Top photo: England’s starting XI against Norway; Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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