On a historic night under Wembley’s iconic arch, the weight of the occasion was not lost on Sarina Wiegman. As her team became European champions for the first time, the England manager stated six clear words: “Most of all, we changed society.”
The impact of this victory will reverberate across the country and beyond. In front of 87,000 fans at the home of English football, the Lionesses battled past Germany to lift their first major trophy, rewriting the history books. In both a grueling and magical afternoon, England edged to a 2-1 win in extra time, calling on every ounce of energy left.
Wiegman described her team’s historic feat as “unbelievable”. “I’ve lost my voice a little bit,” she continued. “I think what we’ve done is really incredible. I’m so proud of the team. I think I need a couple of days to realise what we’ve done.”
The England manager, having been appointed less than 12 months ago, masterminded yet another victory for her team. England remain unbeaten under her, the 18th victory of the 20 games she’s been in charge.
Known for her ruthlessness and high standards, her second-half substitutes proved the difference as they have so often this tournament. In a game of close margins, every small detail counted in the narrowest of encounters.
“It was so tight but who cares,” Wiegman said. “We won 2-1 and we are European champions. If you really want to win and become better every single day, that’s what I have noticed the whole year. It’s been incredible. We agreed a couple of things on behaviours, they weren’t just words, we lived it. And this is the result.”
Over the past three weeks, the resilience of this England side has been clear to see, and it was required in abundance. It was a contest that threatened to boil over at times, with a raft of tenacious challenges from both sides. With half an hour to go in normal time, the Lionesses took the lead in sublime fashion. Keira Walsh picked out the run of Ella Toone with her trademark vision. The substitute, only on the pitch for a few minutes, lifted a sweetly struck lob over Merle Frohms in the Germany goal.
Alessia Russo, her England and Manchester United teammate, had every confidence as she watched Toone break the defensive line. “As soon as she got put through, I knew it was going in the back of the net,” she said. “That’s because she can do it on the biggest stage of all.”
The drama was only just beginning. Germany struck a late blow to English hearts as Lina Magull proved deadly once more in front of the goal. However, the Lionesses rallied in extra time when substitute Chloe Kelly remained alert after a corner to fire home the winner with 10 minutes to play, her first goal for her country.
“This is what dreams are made of,” she said. “As a young girl watching women’s football and now this, it’s unbelievable. These girls are special, the manager is special, and what a special group of staff. This is amazing. All my family are in the crowd. My mum, all my brothers, my sister, all my nephews, everyone. I just want to celebrate.”
Leah Williamson was equally delighted, lifting the trophy for her country in the first year of her captaincy. “It’s the proudest moment of my life – until the day I have kids I suppose. I am going to lap it up,” she gushed. “Every single piece of advice I got was to take every single second in because you’re going to want to relive it over and over and I’ll be reliving that for a long time.”
Williamson had a special word for the younger generation of players who, along with her, have achieved something never done before. “With something like this,” she said, “we talk and talk, and we have finally done it. It’s about doing it on the pitch, and I tell you what, the kids are all right.
“The legacy of this tournament is a change in society” Williamson continued. “It’s everything we’ve done. We’ve brought everyone together. We’ve got people to come to games and we want them to come to WSL games, but the legacy of this team is winners and this is the start of the journey.”