Inglaterra 2-1 Alemanha (after extra time): Kelly scored in extra time after Lina Magull had cancelled out Ella Toone’s opener
Algum 56 anos atrás, when England last won a major international tournament, they thought it was all over. This time, you sense it is just the beginning.
How else to characterise the scale of this achievement by these women who now call themselves the champions of Europe? How else to contextualise the magnitude of Chloe Kelly’s winner, stabbed in with the tenacity that she, her teammates and their predecessors have had to show to earn the recognition they can now revel in?
Kelly’s 110th-minute strike not only won this Women’s European Championship and not only delivered the Lionesses the first tournament success of their history. The belief is that it will do far more than that, building on the rapid growth that a sport that was once illegal has witnessed in recent years, capitalising on the sheer joy of this summer to inspire wider change. Garantido, win or lose, Sarina Wiegman and her players had perhaps already achieved that. But now they have a trophy to hang it all on to.
The vast majority of the 87,192 inside Wembley – a record European Championship crowd, whether men’s or women’s – were celebrating at the final whistle but were made to wait.
Ella Toone’s wonderful opening goal appeared to have sent England on their way to glory, only for Germany to deservedly level through Lina Magull. This was not a classic spectacle, particularly in extra time as both sides tired. Yet in drama, it was unmatched. Whoever could scrap and battle their way over the line would win the day.
That honour would be Kelly’s, who latched onto Lucy Bronze’s flick-on from a corner and attempted to stab England’s second in from just a few yards out. Her first swing was a miss but she connected with the second, poking past goalkeeper Merle Frohms to write her name down in history. And make no mistake, that is what this is.
Leah Williamson now joins Bobby Moore in being the second England captain to lift a major international trophy, Sarina Wiegman joins Sir Alf Ramsey in being the second winning coach, but in their wider impact off the pitch, these women have achieved what no England side ever has.
If England’s line-up was predictably unchanged, there was a shock, late switch to Germany’s. Their captain and the tournament’s joint-top scorer Alexandra Popp was forced out with a muscular problem sustained during the warm-up, with Lea Schuller replacing her. Popp lined up in the pre-match huddle with the rest of her teammates, still in full kit, and made her way to the substitutes’ bench with a smile on her face, but the loss of such a talismanic figure unquestionably dented Germany’s chances of a ninth Euros title before a ball had been kicked.
Popp’s injury all but ensured Beth Mead would go home with the Golden Boot but it guaranteed nothing else. Even if Germany were shaken by the sudden loss of their captain, England would still need to take advantage. Ellen White’s first chance came with a third-minute header, after good work by Fran Kirby and Rachel Daly down the left, but it was straight at goalkeeper Merle Frohms. That was the only clear sight of goal that the Lionesses had before Germany began to regain composure.
When Daly slipped and skewed a desperate clearance across her own penalty area, Lucy Bronze had to block a goal-bound shot by Sara Dabritz. If they could have gone ahead through that first chance, they should have gone ahead through their second. Quite how Marina Hegering did not convert from point-blank range can only be explained by the mass of bodies in front of her. A frantic goalmouth scramble started with a Mary Earps save, included Leah Williamson clearing off the line, and only ended when Earps threw herself down on the ball.
England could count themselves fortunate to have survived a spot of questionable set-piece defending, but then that scramble was befitting of the game this final was becoming. Already bitty and attritional, the contest began to be interrupted by fouls, some soft but some silly. As referee Kateryna Monzul attempted to seize control, she cautioned both White and Georgia Stanway for separate offences in the space of about 30 segundos. Stanway could have received a second yellow towards the end of the half, while Germany began picking up cards of their own.
White went close shortly before the break, firing over after being found in space by Mead, but it was Germany who truly threatened once both sides re-emerged. Tabea Wassmuth, introduced at half time, sought to capitalise on the Millie Bright slip that allowed her to break in behind and go one-on-one with Earps but, as the blood rushed to her head, her shot was straight into the England goalkeeper’s body. Lina Magull fired just past the post shortly after. The momentum was shifting. Germany were finding and exploiting spaces that England simply were not.
Keira Walsh changed all that. The Manchester City midfielder – one of the more unheralded players to impress at this tournament – has demonstrated a remarkable range of passing over the past three-and-a-half weeks but none were better than the ball over the top to release Toone. Occupying an awkward space on the right, filling in while Mead was receiving treatment and England were down to 10 jogadoras, Toone ran clear of Germany’s backpedalling defence and through on goal. Her decision to chip Frohms was the definition of audacity but executed to perfection, the ball dropping on an immaculate parabola and over the line.
Yet if there has been a pattern to big England games in recent years – both in the men’s and women’s competition – it has been an awkwardness when asked to sit, absorb pressure and defend a lead. So it would be again. Magull had already sent one warning shot crashing against the outside of the woodwork before the equaliser 11 minutes from time which, though well-worked, was also preventable. As Williamson tracked the run of Wassmuth, she left Magull unmarked at the near post. Bright did not step up quickly enough to cover, perhaps expecting that Magull would not be able to convert a low cross at the near post. Except that was exactly what she did.
Fortunately for England, once parity was restored, the pressure relented. That rush for an equaliser had taken a lot out of Germany but the Lionesses looked just as tired. The most notable moment in the first half of extra time was another scramble inside the England penalty area, which reflected just how stretched and fatigued a lot of the play had become. There would be another in the second half, only this time in Germany’s box. Kelly made sure to take advantage and secure this England team’s joint-legacy as both winners and trailblazers.