Sheffield (United Kingdom) (AFP) – England will have the chance to win a first ever major women’s tournament in front of a sold-out Wembley this weekend after beating Sweden 4-0 in Sheffield on Tuesday to reach the Euro 2022 final.
Substitute Alessia Russo’s stunning backheel through the legs of Sweden goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl set the seal on a special night for the Lionesses with Beth Mead, Lucy Bronze and Fran Kirby also on the scoresheet to set up a clash against Germany or France on Sunday.
After semi-final heartache in the last three major tournaments, it was fourth time lucky for the Lionesess to the delight of the home crowd of 29,000 at Bramall Lane.
Mead settled the hosts’ nerves after a bright start by Sweden when the Arsenal forward smashed home her sixth goal of the tournament.
Bronze’s header early in the second half then opened the floodgates, but it was Russo’s finish will live long in the memory.
The Manchester United striker has made a positive impact off the bench throughout the tournament and may finally get the chance to start ahead of England’s all-time record goalscorer Ellen White in the final.
Russo’s first effort was parried by Lindahl, but she embarrassed the Swedish stopper by using her heel to thread the rebound through the Atletico Madrid goalkeeper’s legs.
Lindahl’s nightmare evening was rounded off 14 minutes from time when she got a hand to Kirby’s chip but failed to keep it out.
A record crowd for a women’s Euro of 87,000 is expected at Wembley for the final, hoping England will end a 56-year wait for a major title in either the men’s or women’s game.
– Sweden’s unbeaten run smashed –
Sweden had not lost in open play in 34 matches stretching back to the World Cup semi-finals in 2019.
The number two ranked side in the world showed why early on as England struggled to contain the Swedish threat on the counter-attack.
Mary Earps was forced into a fine save by Sofia Jakobsson inside 20 seconds.
Set-pieces have been another strength of Peter Gerhardsson’s side and nearly proved their route to the opener when Arsenal striker Stina Blackstenius crashed a header off the bar from a corner.
However, in keeping with their tournament, England were far more clinical when their chances game.
Blackstenius’ club teammate Mead extended her lead in the race for the Golden Boot to two with a perfect control and volleyed finish from Bronze’s cross on 34 minutes.
Mead has also now matched the record of six goals in a single women’s European Championship held by Germany’s Inka Grings at Euro 2009.
That was also the last time England reached the final of a major women’s tournament and Bronze’s header from Mead’s corner three minutes after half-time put England well on the way to Wembley.
Sweden refused to go quietly, but just like in their narrow quarter-final win over Belgium, were guilty of wasting a host of chance.
Amanda Ilestedt should have pulled a goal back immediately before Earps produced a stunning save from Blackstenius.
Any Swedish hopes of a fightback were truly extinguished on 68 minutes with a goal that will be replayed the world over.
A brilliant England move involving Keira Walsh and Kirby teed up Russo, whose initial finish was straight at Lindahl.
Yet, despite the presence of two Swedish defenders, with her back to goal and the angle narrowing, Russo produced a moment of magic to backheel the ball with enough power to catch Lindahl napping.
The veteran Swedish goalkeeper is closing in on 200 caps, but will want to forget this one as she then failed to keep out her former Chelsea teammate Kirby’s effort that trickled over the line.
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