Tournament football is all about momentum. England have a great chance to build it quickly at Euro 2022, starting in front of a packed house at Old Trafford against Austria on 6 July. A raucous and intimidating atmosphere throughout the tournament can help Sarina Wiegman’s side secure a host nation triumph.
As a nation, we saw what happened with the great support for England’s men’s team last summer. The fans need to replicate that for the women, to bring that extra bit of motivation to the team. If you look back to the 2017 Women’s Euros in the Netherlands, the home crowds were magnificent; behind their team from the first game to last.
I remember playing in the semi-final – it was intimidating, which really helped them and worked against England. The atmosphere they created was epic and the Dutch team went on to win the tournament under Wiegman. England need to make it intimidating for the opposition but positive for our team – who should have nothing to fear – because it could make the difference in the tight games.
England should not require that much extra motivation, with a potential Wembley final the goal for all those involved. It is something they are unlikely to get a shot at again. When I was growing up it was every boy’s dream to play at Wembley – now we are showing it can be anyone’s dream to play there. If this squad can win a major tournament on home soil, it will be life-changing for the team and the sport.
For the players in the England dressing room, there is no need to go on about incentive. If you do not have that, you should not be in elite sport. Everyone knows what is at stake, and the team should harness that emotion.
A win against Austria will be the perfect start for England after months of buildup, plus growing pressure on a team amid all the publicity. They will want to take maximum points against a team they should beat on paper, especially with a tricky clash against Norway in Brighton for their second match. There is evidence to show teams can fail to win the first game and go on to win a tournament but starting well is important.
The first game is always difficult – regardless of opposition. You want to get it done and dusted while hitting the ground running. It is about building step-by-step to ensure you are ready to peak at the right time within the six-game structure. You need to get off to a good start because everyone will be watching. The expectant home fans will be looking for inspiration, while rival teams search for weaknesses.
Wiegman knows what it is like to win as a manager in a home tournament. She knows how to deal with crowds, pressure and expectations. She has a winning mentality and has been working to develop a culture of success within the England team since starting in the role in January 2021. I have met her a couple of times and been very impressed.
I remember when England were being criticised for beating teams in World Cup qualifying by huge margins – including a 20-0 win over Latvia – and she came out afterwards saying she wanted more – that is the sign of an elite leader. I would love to put on my boots and play for one of her sides, she’s that good. I think England have got a good one there.
In the end, though, an England manager is judged on major international tournaments. England can get through qualifying with ease and breeze through some games, and winning the Arnold Clark Cup in February gave them a great platform to build on – but where it matters is here and now.
At the last World Cup in 2019, England got to the semi-final but after that, they regressed. They are back in a rebuilding phase under Wiegman, and she has brought through a younger crop of players. Half of this team have not been to a Euros before. The younger players will have to lean on the experienced squad members, and the manager too, for their guidance to nurture them.
Wiegman does not appear to have changed a great deal within the setup, but she has made the team more defensively solid. I do not expect too many problems at the back with quality defenders such as Millie Bright, Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood. In midfield, Keira Walsh and the new captain, Leah Williamson, can sit in front to add a little extra protection, too.
Where I do anticipate problems, however, is in finding the requisite goals to win a tournament. Ellen White is a record-breaking striker but she relies heavily on getting the right service. I worry that without Fran Kirby being fit enough to play 90 minutes, England might miss her natural creativity and a lot of the pressure to spark something will naturally fall on Lauren Hemp.
The Manchester City winger is still only 21 and will have to deal with some teams doubling up on her. If they succeed, White’s service might be stifled. Beth Mead will also be key when it comes to creating chances, but I do think England can be a bit straight-lined at times.
Kirby has not played for her club, Chelsea, since February but has been included in the squad. She has the ability to cut teams open, drift in and out of areas and be a bit more dynamic. Set pieces will be important – and England are strong on dead-ball delivery – but from open play, there could be some issues.
This summer should be a celebration of women’s football. If the England team get to Wembley there will be so many people cheering them on, from all the way to when the women’s game was banned in England. As a player, you always want to leave the shirt in a better place than you found it. Becoming European champions would be a great way to set things up for the next generation.