The Women’s Euro 2022 continues to entertain and amaze as teams battled each other to reach the semifinal stage of the tournament. England, Sweden, Germany and France, all of whom won their groups, beat Spain, Belgium, Austria and Netherlands respectively to advance from quarterfinals.
ENGLAND 2-1 SPAIN
Given that England had been averaging close to five goals a game during the Euro group stages while Spain struggled to make their possession dominance count — all while gifting goals to opponents — you would be excused if you thought England would walk away with a win here. But Spain showed their quality and suffocated England in the first half by restricting them to just one shot.
Midfield maestro Aitana Bonmati and industrious winger Mariona Caldentey lead from the front and disrupted England’s practiced patterns of play. However, for all their possession dominance, Spain could not find the cutting edge in the final third.
That changed in the second half as young Athenea del Castillo was brought on in place of Marta Cardona at half time. The young winger got the better of Rachel Daly after a lovely teasing and measured pass from Bonmati and set up center forward Esther Gonzalez. 1-0 to the Spainiards!
A goal down and approaching the hour mark, England manager Sarina Wiegman rang out the changes with super sub Alessia Russo coming on for veteran Ellen White, tournament top-scorer Beth Mead replaced by Chloe Kelly and Ella Toone coming on for Fran Kirby. This gamble paid off immediately as Kelly and Russo proved to be better outlets than Mead and White. Russo in particular established a physical presence that unsettled Spain’s backline.
Formerly a part of Chelsea’s development squad, Russo has the best goals per 90 so far in this tournament, which shows how well she has managed to impact games from the bench. While England managed to build some more pressure and create attempts at goal, the equalizer didn’t look to be on the cards.
That until Wiegman made a maverick move. She brought on Alex Greenwood for the struggling Rachel Daly, which allowed England to temporarily switch to a back three while Bright joined Russo up top. This move paid dividends almost immediately as England scored just a couple of minutes later. Hemp’s deep cross now had two targets, Bright and Russo, at the back post and this overload led to Spain losing the aerial duel to Russo. Her header from Ella was gobbled up by the onrushing Ella Toone, who slotted home and wheeled away in celebration after finding the 1-1 equalizer in regular time.
This took the match into extra-time and England reverted to a back four but this time, their fresh legs made the difference against Spain’s midfield. More turnovers were being created by England’s pressing and it was from one such instance that Stanway created a historic moment.
Spain lost the ball at the edge of their defensive third, which allowed Keira Walsh to release Stanway into space. Stanway galloped into space as the Spanish backline kept retreating and unleashed a thunder bastard for the ages to make it 2-1 at extra time.
Her goal proved to be enough for England to advance into the semi-finals, where they will meet Sweden.
In the tournament preview, I spoke about how deep England’s bench is and so far Wiegman has made full use of it. But not enough has been said of how brilliant Millie Bright has been at the back. Her distribution of her and playing out from the back of her have been excellent and she has not put a single foot wrong defensively, not to mention establishing an aerial dominance in and around the box. She was named player of the match in this game and deservedly so.
perspective: Beauty of the knockout stages is even if the first 60 min don’t go your way, you can stretch it out to last another 60 and get it right.
— The Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) July 20, 2022
Spain will be disappointed to not have done more when they were on top and will look back on the tournament and feel rather unlucky, both with injuries and the manner in which they conceded goals. That however should take nothing away from Aitana Bonmati and Mariona Caldentey, both of whom showed their immense quality throughout.
Bonmati plays the way you would expect the best Spanish playmakers to play. Silky on the ball, excellent vision and impeccable choice and technique of pass. She has certainly announced herself on the international stage.
Germany 2-0 Austria, France 1-0 Netherlands, and Sweden 1-0 Belgium
Germany have steamrolled past their opponents, no matter their quality since the beginning of the tournament and have established themselves as the clear favorites for a record 9th Euro Championship win. They beat Austria comfortably in the quarter finals and have so far not conceded a single goal in the tournament.
Germany boast the second least PPDA in the tournament along with the best defensive record and have stifled opponents with ease. They’ve faced very few shots and even fewer shots on target. Their forward line is clicking well and the defensive coverage provided by Lena Oberdorf in midfield creates a very secure platform for their creative play.
However, Germany opponents France are not to be taken lightly. They suffocated Netherlands in the quarter finals and peppered the goal with shots and somehow managed to not score in regulation time, thanks to some wasteful finishing and heroics from the Dutch keeper.
However, France’s persistence finally paid off in the first half of extra time as the Netherlands conceded a penalty. Chelsea’s new signing Eve Perisset stepped up to the spot and made no mistake to take France past the quarter final stage at the Euros for the first time in their history. Even though they lost a star attacking player in Marie-Antoinette Katoto, they still showed enough quality in the game against Netherlands.
England’s opponents Sweden were similarly frustrated at the very final minute of the full 90 by Belgium. Belgium’s rearguard action withstanding wave after wave of Swedish attacks was a sight to behold.
It took Sweden 33 attempts to finally break through and score a goal. Belgium goalkeeper Nicky Evrard had the tournament of her lifetime as she stood strong in the goal and is perhaps the biggest reason why Belgium advanced so far in the tournament.
Based on the quality of shots faced on target, the ‘average’ goalkeeper would have been expected to concede nine more goals than Nicky Evrard did for Belgium at #WEURO2022.
Her goals prevented total (8.9) is three times higher than the next best at the finals: Mary Earps (3). pic.twitter.com/gD8oIbJn67
— The Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) July 23, 2022
Sweden have at times failed to convince in this tournament but have always just done enough to advance, despite COVID spreading through their camp and making key players unavailable for selection. They will come up against England on home turf and the resilience they’ve shown so far in the tournament will be tested to the limit.
They will have two less days to prepare for the semi-final than England and will hope that the players who have been affected by COVID will return in time for that fixture.
One thing to note is that Chelsea will have at least one winner and one runner-up returning to their pre-season as all four teams in the semi-finals have Blues players as part of their contingent.
Good luck to everyone involved, and may the best team win!!!
CONCACAF Women’s Championship
On the other side of the world, Canadian internationals Jessie Fleming and Kadeisha Buchanan lost to USA in the finals of the CONCACAF Women’s Championship.
Fleming finished the tournament as one of the top scorers with 3 goals to her name from midfield and was named a part of the best XI of the tournament. USA exacted payback after having lost to Canada in the Olympics at the semi-final stage last year, where Jessie Fleming scored from the spot in the 75th minute. Alex Morgan scored from the spot in the 77th minute to seal their 9th CONCACAF Women’s Championship title. The symmetry is almost poetic.
However both teams also secured qualification to the upcoming Women’s World Cup.
Ex-Chelsea player Drew Spence (also part of the tournament’s best XI, alongside Fleming) won the bronze medal as Jamaica beat Costa Rica after extra time, thanks to a goal from Manchester City’s Bunny Shaw. Jamaica had previously lost to Canada in the semi-finals, where Fleming scored the opener.