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Euro 2022: England in perfect position to land elusive trophy

The whole England squad joined in the post-match celebrations at Bramall Lane

England’s Euro 2022 campaign has not only cut through in spectacular fashion to capture the public’s imagination but is now providing the iconic moments that are symbolic of major tournament success.

The 4-0 demolition of Sweden – the side ranked second in the world – at an exultant Bramall Lane was caused by wild celebrations as Sarina Wiegman’s England wiped out the curse of losing three successive semi-finals to set up a meeting with France or Germany at Wembley on Sunday.

As fireworks exploded into the Yorkshire night and the traditional England anthems resounded at deafening volume, the scale of England’s achievement in this 19-game unbeaten run under Wiegman was underscored by the thousands of fans who simply refused to go home.

And, amid a performance that required England to hold their nerve – and goalkeeper Mary Earps to excel as Sweden made a flying start – before they put in a display of outstanding skill and power, there was one piece of audacity and genius that not only sealed their win but demonstrated what is turning this Euro 2022 into something very special.

England were 2-0 up with a goal from Beth Mead in the first half and a pressure-valve-releasing header from Lucy Bronze early in the second when Wiegman’s sure touch with substitutions was shown once more.

Ellen White had given another tireless performance before she was replaced by Alessia Russo after 57 minutes – the latter well-versed in providing the “X Factor” flourishes in England’s advance towards the last four.

Here, she created a chance for Lauren Hemp before producing a piece of skill that sent the crowd inside a thunderous Bramall Lane over the edge – not that they needed much encouragement, such is the swell of support for the Lionesses.

Russo saw her first effort blocked by Sweden keeper Hedvig Lindahl before chasing the loose ball away from goal. Sweden thought the danger had gone only for Russo to produce a moment of magic, a genius backheel that bamboozled defenders and nutmegged Lindahl.

It was right out of the top drawer and felt a surge of celebration around the stadium, setting up a last 20 minutes that was everything a team with their sights set on finally claiming the greatest crown they could wish for.

Russo’s brilliant performance off the bench may be the catalyst for more calls for her to start ahead of White in Sunday’s final but Wiegman has her strategy and she is sticking to it as England were unchanged for the fifth game in a row.

Wiegman knows what White gives her from the start. She knows what Russo gives her from the bench. It has worked to perfection so far and if it is not broken, why fix it?

If the quarter-final win over Spain was a triumph over adversity and a victory for resilience and willpower, this fell into the category of a powerful statement of intent once Earps, who was as faultless as her opposite number was vulnerable, had kept England in the game.

England had stellar performances all over the pitch, with Fran Kirby immense and a serving scorer of the fourth goal, while Mead’s maturity was on show once again as she remains on course to win the Golden Boot with her sixth of the tournament.

It was not just England’s fans who did not want to go home. Wiegman joined her players in a huddle to deliver an impassioned speech before the players celebrated with a lap of honor which extended into a stay of almost half an hour on the pitch, the experienced White looking particularly emotional as they took it all in.

Ellen White and Jill Scott
Ellen White and Jill Scott are two of England’s longest-serving players

There is growing momentum and expectation around England, with thousands of fans in wonderful good humor and swathed in optimism marching towards Bramall Lane before kick-off.

England are carrying a great weight of expectation in Euro 2022 and if it seemed a burden for a while against Spain, it was a responsibility they relished once they hit their stride here.

Sweden are formidable opponents and showed exactly why in the opening phases but once Bronze’s header drifted in for England’s second, they were done. Wiegman’s charges exerted such a command and demoralized Sweden to such an extent that the final scoreline could have been even more emphatic.

The moment is now here for England to seize. They have a coach who has been over this course and distance and won. They have a squad at ease with itself and growing in the sort of confidence this win will breed. They will have a passionate Wembley crowd behind them at the end.

England’s women will never have a better chance to land that elusive major trophy.

Wiegman finally went down the tunnel accompanied by the strains of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill.

She scaled this particular mountain with the Netherlands four years ago – now England and their inspirational coach are in the perfect position for one last push to the summit at a sell-out Wembley on Sunday.

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