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Move over Wimbledon, the true jewel of the British sporting summer is here | Women’s Euro 2022

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A A curious sight appeared on the London skyline late on Monday afternoon. Tower Bridge is 43 meters high at its center and for a few moments its entire span was adorned with an image of England’s captain, Leah Williamson: dressed in bright England white, with a ball at her feet. This was not an isolated phenomenon. Around the same time, the giant lionesses of the light show began to appear across the capital: Lucy Bronze at Battersea Power Station, Demi Stokes on the Thames Barrier, Keira Walsh on the facade of the National Gallery.

Two days before the biggest women’s sporting event to be held in England, the symbolism was quite clear. For decades, these women, and the thousands that came before them, have fought, fought and suffered for the simple privilege of being seen. Over the next 25 days, as Sarina Wiegman’s team and their 15 rivals serve up a feast of prime-time soccer, it may be hard to avoid them. Now, and with the utmost respect for the Commonwealth Games, Wimbledon and beyond, comes the true jewel of the British sporting summer.

For Williamson and his teammates, the trick will be in reminding themselves that what feels like a climax is only the beginning. This tournament has been five long years in the making, the burning beacon on top of a distant hill they could always see but never touch. For months, their diaries have been filled with interviews, promotional engagements, team meetings, breakout sessions, all focused on this one point. Now comes the hard part.

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If you’re a casual or even relatively new fan of this team, you’ve probably heard some vague talk of England winning. You are probably wondering how much of this is genuine and how much is projection. To clear that part up first, England can definitely win. They have a depth of talent to rival the best, mind boggling permutations of attack, a coach in Wiegman who has been there and done this, six packed home crowds waiting for them. They should probably start out as slight favorites. But none of that is enough by itself. Just ask the French, an unimaginably talented generation of footballers who crashed out of their own World Cup three years ago and now seem to be quietly imploding before they kick a ball. Torn by discord and led by the fickle and divisive Corinne Diacre, it says so much about the depth of the France squad that one can see them challenging even without the brilliant Amandine Henry and Eugénie Le Sommer, stars of Lyon’s Champions League victory. .

The same goes for a team from Spain containing nine of the Barcelona squad that in recent years has started to challenge the way we think about the game.

Led by the wise Irene Paredes and featuring one of the youngest squads in the competition, Spain is packed with skill and precision to take down the weakest teams, but with a short tournament pedigree and placed in the toughest group. The late retirement of Alexia Putellas is a terrible blow, and puts even more pressure on the likes of Aitana Bonmatí to provide the creative flourish in the final third.

Pernille Harder (10) of Denmark seen during the soccer friendly between Denmark and Brazil at Parken in Copenhagen in June 2022.
Pernille Harder (left) is one to watch for 2017 runners-up Denmark. Photograph: Gonzales Photo/Alamy

Alongside those three, the main threats should come from Northern Europe. Germany, the Netherlands and Norway are former champions, Sweden an Olympic silver medalist, Denmark 2017 runners-up and with plenty of threats beyond the inspiring Pernille Harder. Yes, that’s half the field. It’s not sitting on the fence; it’s simply a measure of how unfathomable this tournament is. Italy is pretty good too. Iceland could take a hit. Don’t count out the Swiss. And so.

Many matches must be played in front of full or nearly full crowds. The selection of stadiums has been the source of some controversy.

The 4,700-seat Academy Stadium and the 8,100-seat Leigh Sports Village don’t look too good, considering the smaller venue for next year’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand will have capacity for 22,000 spectators. The demand is there – tickets for the final sold out in an hour and total sales will top all previous records – but don’t blame the organisers.

The Football Association invited all the major fields in the country to bid for the hosting rights. If your club does not organize a game, or did not want to or the local authorities did not play ball.

And yet, perhaps the most refreshing aspect of this tournament is how little its success depends on a home win. Even taking into account UEFA’s recent record for major events, the probability of trouble is minuscule, the specter of empty stadiums has already been averted, the quality of football is guaranteed and the audience is ready.

This in itself is its own devastating victory. For much of its history, women’s football has been forced to defend its own right to exist. Time and energy wasted talking to people who don’t want to listen, fighting people who want you to fail, defending a respect that is always given grudgingly.

Well, that argument has been won. The misogynists have already lost. And this is the result: a pure football tournament, a pure celebration, a pure space for women to be deceived and seduced, a space carved out by the hard work of pioneers who came before but not enslaved by history or the tradition.

The congregation has been converted. The churches are in their place. The doors are about to open. It’s time for these women to clear their throats and sing some hymns.

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