England could end this week as champions of Europe — but first they must end a semi-final hoodoo which has haunted them in the last three tournaments.
A freak own goal saw them cruelly go out to Japan at the 2015 World Cup. In reality, the squad were not ready and probably over-achieved.
Two years later, after a convincing group stage and impressive quarter-final win over France, there was more expectation.
England were beaten by Japan at the 2015 World Cup following a freak own goal
Injuries and suspensions meant boss Mark Sampson was forced to pick a makeshift midfield and a Netherlands side — managed by current England boss Sarina Wiegman — ran out comfortable 3-0 winners.
Two years later, Phil Neville was forced to change his goalkeeper after an injury to Karen Bardsley. And although fine margins saw England defeated 2-1 by the United States — Steph Houghton missing a penalty after Ellen White had seen a goal ruled out for offside — the Americans were the superior side.
‘I think in previous semi-finals we’ve had other things to deal with,’ said Lucy Bronze, who will play in her fourth semi-final with the Lionesses on Tuesday night.
At Euro 2017 there was frustration for England as they were beaten by the Netherlands
In 2019 England lost the United States in the semi-finals of the Women’s World Cup
‘Whether that was players missing games through injuries or suspensions, it kind of shook the team a little bit. I know that all three semi-finals I’ve played in we’ve had to make changes going in that I don’t think managers would have wanted to have made. Touch wood at the minute everything is going the way it should.’
There is an argument that this is the most prepared an England team have ever been going into a semi-final.
Not only do they have a manager who has been there and done it in Wiegman, but they are on home turf and have had the benefit of excellent training facilities at both St George’s Park and the Lensbury Hotel in west London.
But there is also more expectation. England have handled the pressure of being the host nation so far, but that will ramp up a level when they walk out at Bramall Lane.
There is also the extra pressure of knowing what reaching a final and winning a tournament could do for women’s football in this country.
It is a burden that Gareth Southgate’s players did not have when they played Denmark in Euro 2020 last year. They did not have to win in order to grow the Premier League.
The Lionesses know they are not just playing for themselves, but for the future of the WSL.
‘I think the fact that the tournament has been delayed a whole year, we’ve been made well aware for the previous kind of year or two or three, how big an impact this tournament can have,’ Bronze admitted.
‘I think all the girls who’ve been involved with England over the past year to 24 months, we’ve kind of been reminded of that every single time we put on an England shirt or every single time that we go to a camp.
‘We’ve been well aware of that from the beginning, as soon as England were named as the hosts, that we had an opportunity to inspire the nation, to change the game in our country.’
Lucy Bronze believes England are capable of ending their hoodoo and reaching the final
Ellie Roebuck, Hannah Hampton and Mary Earps of England in training ahead of the game
England coach Sarina Wiegman beat Sweden in 2019 when she was in charge of Holland
Standing in England’s way are Sweden, the highest ranked team in the tournament.
They too know the feeling of falling at the final hurdle. They were beaten by Wiegman’s Netherlands in 2019, before defeating the Lionesses in the third-place play off, and they lost on penalties against Canada in the final of the Tokyo Olympics.
There is as much at stake for them as there is for England.
Neither country want the tag of being a ‘nearly’ team who will be forgotten quickly.
To leave a lasting legacy, England simply have to win on Tuesday night.