by Jonathan Tay (4/8/22)
Above: Scenes at Wembley Stadium after England’s European Championship Final on Sunday. Photo: Lionesses.
With the culmination of an enthralling UEFA Women’s Euros, it is difficult not to look ahead with anticipation to the next big tournament – the Women’s World Cup in 2023. The Matildas kick off on home soil in just under a year’s time.
And as the Lionesses revel in the glory of a first major trophy, the women’s game as a whole is celebrating an ongoing, inexorable rise: burgeoning attention, broken audience records, and continued evidence of the growing levels of footballing quality.
So after having witnessed such a captivating competition in England, here we look forward to what we can expect from the European contingent of nations who will compete at AU/NZ ‘23.
The Best Players in the World
There is no doubting the elite football talent in Europe.
There was a reason to watch each and every Euros match; stars at the peak of their powers in Alex Popp, Kadidiatou Diani, and Beth Mead, as well as rising youngsters in the likes of Lauren Hemp, Selma Bacha, and Lena Oberdorf, carrying their countries’ ambitions on their backs.
Amongst them, they displayed dazzling skill, conjuring moments of magic throughout the tournament; Alessia Russo’s outrageous backheel goal, Athenea Del Castillo waltzing Rachel Daly to the ground, Nicky Evrard’s goalkeeping heroics.
Australians may already be familiar with a number of these nations and players; the Matildas having first-hand experience of the might of Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Spain during the Tony Gustavsson era.
Europe boasts 12 of the top 20 nations on the FIFA World Rankings, so you can guarantee more than a few will have a say in the final destination of the World Cup trophy.
A Dominant England
With the European Championship “coming home” right from their backyard, can England now return from the farthest reaches of the Commonwealth with the World Cup as well?
Their free-flowing offence, led by Mead, Hemp, Fran Kirby, Ella Toone, and Russo, racked up the highlights on the way to the trophy, scoring 22 goals (1st at Euros) from 59 chances created (2nd).
But even more impressive was the Lionesses’ ability to overcome adversities and grind out tough wins.
Smashing any preconceived notions of English fragility, they came from behind against Spain, weathered early trouble versus Sweden, and bested Germany over 120 minutes in the final.
Manager Sarina Wiegman has completely rejuvenated the squad, and their resilience and quality in depth will make them formidable opponents for anyone at next year’s World Cup, up there with the likes of powerhouses USA, as well as Sweden and Germany.
Tactical, Talented Managers
Yes, it was the first time since 2009 that two female managers had contested the Euros final.
But in truth, Wiegman and Martina Voss-Tecklenburg have proven to be amongst the very best gaffers in the game, regardless of gender.
The biggest differentiator throughout the tournament was tactical malleability, with both managers able to cajole commitment and wring every ounce of effort out of their respective squads.
Voss-Tecklenburg’s Germany were unmatched energetically, allowing only 8.6 passes per defensive action (second), forcing 95 high turnovers (first) from 158 pressed sequences (first), and giving numerous goalkeepers nightmares of captain Popp furiously bearing down on them.
On the other side of the draw was now back-to-back Euros champion, Wiegman. Every decision she made seemed to turn to gold – central to this being her use of timely substitutions, with bench players scoring a third of her team’s goals. Formations were tweaked for different situations, whilst she also varied the Lionesses’ aggressiveness without the ball, depending on the opponent.
As teams across the world continue to scout and learn from European success, the strategic battle will be one of the most intriguing areas to keep an eye on in 2023.
International Fanatics and Fervour
As covered by us earlier in the tournament, Europe boasts some of the most passionate, football-loving countries in the world.
Next year, Australia will come face-to-face with some of the most unique and endearing (and to some, perhaps unbearable) traditions which result from proudly supporting one’s nation.
From the Swedes’ ABBA renditions to the blaring trumpets of England and the marches of the Dutch Oranje wave, the World Cup will bring an international vibrancy and pizzazz to the already colourful fabrics of our cities and stadiums.
The Growth of the Game
The incredible numbers coming out of the Euros underscore the furious speed at which the women’s game has gained attention: 87,120 were at the final, a record crowd for any men’s or women’s game in the competition’s history, with a peak TV audience of 17.4 million tuning into BBC One’s broadcast.
Similarly, the quality and excitement of the games has also increased dramatically. 96 goals were scored in this year’s version of the Euros, compared to 68 in 2017, whilst pass completion and shot conversion across most participants has also improved.
This is the type of football attractive back here in Australia as well – head coach Gustavsson has been preaching the need for his team to want the ball, to be proactive and “on the front foot”.
An A-League Women’s player survey noted likewise. Whilst the general consensus was that the domestic style of football was predominantly transitional, the majority of players also felt that “possession-based gameplay” would produce greater attacking outcomes and goal-scoring opportunities.
The nation will be hoping the Matildas can keep up with the level of competition at what will be an unprecedented World Cup in 2023. Regardless though, the ability to draw on the interest, resources and hard work that has gone before will be important in further developing the grassroots of the game throughout Australia and New Zealand over the long term.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase women’s football, and will be thrilling for both countries to be a part of this massive movement, with plenty of reasons to watch and attend next July.
Jonathan’s picks for Best Squad of the Euros (4-3-3):
DEF: Gwinn, Hegering, Bright, Karchaoui
MID: Oberdorf, Walsh, Kirby
ATT: Mead, Popp, Cascarino
Subs: Earps, Williamson, Huth, Geyoro, Russo