Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – A negative coronavirus test for manager Sarina Wiegman just hours before England’s quarter-final tie with Spain may turn out to have been the biggest positive so far of Euro 2022 for the hosts.
Wiegman had been isolated from her squad for five days before the clash in Brighton, overseeing training from a distance and behind a mask.
Trailing 1-0 in the last eight against a side renowned for their ability to keep hold of possession, the Lionesses needed inspiration from their Dutch coach.
Wiegman’s presence on the touchline helped change the game as substitutes Alexia Russo and Ella Toone combined for an equaliser six minutes from time that kept England alive.
Georgia Stanway’s stunning strike in extra-time then sent the Lionesses through to a fourth consecutive major tournament semi-final.
All three of those previous trips to the last four ended in defeat.
But there is a growing confidence that Wiegman is the difference between this England side and those that have gone before.
The 52-year-old former PE teacher has a perfect record at the Euro, winning 10 matches from 10 after guiding her native Netherlands to the title five years ago.
England had to wait over a year between Wiegman agreeing to the job in August 2020 and taking charge in September 2021 due to her commitments with the Dutch at the Tokyo Olympics.
However, she has proved well worth the wait.
England are unbeaten in 18 games since her arrival — having lost six of the previous 10.
Results have given Wiegman the courage of her convictions.
Beth Mead’s five goals in the group stage did not save the Arsenal forward from being hauled off with under an hour played against Spain.
England’s all-time top goalscorer Ellen White was also sacrificed, as was Fran Kirby, who had been the Lionesses most consistent creative spark in the group stages.
“We talk about all scenarios and we’re prepared for them all,” said Wiegman.
“It starts with the quality of the players. We have so much quality in our team that it’s easier to make substitutions because you know that the new players can make a difference.”
– ‘Freedom’ to play –
Yet, there is growing evidence that Wiegman is the difference-maker to turn the talent in the English women’s game into tournament winners for the first time.
“We always have a game plan but it’s being able to express yourself as a player,” said Millie Bright on the change in culture since Wiegman’s arrival.
“Sarina has a thing where the player on the ball is the one who makes the decision.
“You’re in control. That’s one thing I’ve really loved about her coming in.
“You don’t feel pressured to play a certain pass; it’s your decision and the team goes with it. If it’s wrong, you learn to make a better decision next time. To be able to play like that gives me confidence. I feel really free.”
That freedom shone through as Bright won player of the match against Spain.
The task for England does not get any easier with Sweden, the number two ranked side in the world, to come in the semi-finals in front of a capacity 30,000 crowd in Sheffield on Tuesday.
But they appear a formidable force with the combination of a deep wealth of talent, a world class manager and the support of a nation behind them.
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