The news that the 2022 Women’s Euros is already the best-attended Women’s Euros ever, despite still being only at the group stage, confirms the impression that this edition of the tournament may well be the best ever. There are many reasons for that, but three, in particular, stand out.
The Best Women’s Euros There Has Ever Been
No Competing Men’s Tournament
The coronavirus pandemic has obviously caused huge disruption to the footballing calendar, in both men’s and women’s football. However, the single biggest disruptor of international football has nothing to do with Covid. That is the decision by FIFA first to award the 2022 Men’s World Cup to Qatar and then, once it became obvious that football could not be played in the searing heat of a Qatar summer (which should have precluded Qatar from getting the World Cup in the first place), the decision to move the World Cup from the summer to the winter.
It has obviously been disappointing not to have the traditional men’s summer tournament (either the Men’s World Cup or the Men’s Euros) this year. However, the flipside is that the Women’s Euros has been able, to a large degree, to fill the gap.
There can be no doubt that, especially in the host nation of England, the 2022 Women’s Euros has generated unprecedented media coverage, with all the games being broadcast live both on television and radio. The result has been that even those football fans, both male and female, who do not usually watch women’s football have been able to concentrate exclusively on the women’s international game.
Nearly four million people watched England’s extraordinary 8-0 destruction of Norway earlier this week, with 3.7 million watching live and 750,000 catching up later. Although that figure is still dwarfed by the number of people who watch men’s World Cup games involving England (over 20 million people watched England’s World Cup semi-final against Croatia in 2018), it is still extremely impressive.
Of course, the real test for women’s football will come after the Euros, when it will be fascinating to see whether the greater exposure of the women’s game this summer translates into increased support for women’s domestic football in England and elsewhere. Nevertheless, the success of the 2022 Women’s Euros so far is further proof that there is a growing appetite for women’s international football.
A Strong Host Nation
Of course, every successful summer tournament needs a successful host nation and fortunately, the Women’s Euros 2022 has that in England. Despite never having won a major international tournament, England’s women went into the European Championships as the favourites of many experts and everything they have done since has only strengthened the feeling that they are genuine contenders for the title.
After a typically nervy opening match, in which they only beat Austria 1-0, England went through the gears spectacularly against Norway. They survived a difficult opening period in which the talented Norwegians, reinforced by the return of their long-absent star Ada Hegerberg, could have taken the lead. Then England scored the opener and simply kept on scoring for the rest of the game. Eventually, they triumphed 8-0, in what is probably the finest ever performance by any team at any Women’s Euros ever.
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) July 12, 2022
Indeed, the only real worry for England right now, after they won their group and qualified for the knockout stages with a game to spare, is the possible prolonged absence of coach Sarina Wiegman through Covid. She missed England’s last group match against Northern Ireland but should recover in time for the quarter-final against Spain. However, if she were to be absent, even from training, for a considerable period, it would undoubtedly be damaging for England.
Having won the tournament on home soil with her native Netherlands five years ago, Wiegman was specifically recruited by England to do the double and win another home Euros with them. For all the brilliance of Leah Williamson, Beth Mead and the rest of the England team, Wiegman is probably their single most important component. Consequently, all England fans will hope that her covid-enforced absence is short-lived.
But There Are Other Contenders
Despite the quality that Wiegman’s England have already demonstrated, especially against Norway, there are several other teams that can also win the Women’s Euros. Germany are probably the biggest danger for England. Having won the Women’s Euros eight times in total, including a remarkable six times in succession between 1995 and 2013, they clearly have supreme pedigree in the tournament.
Germany were not among the most fancied nations before the tournament began, but their apparently effortless dismissal of two other supposed contenders, Denmark (who were runners-up to the Netherlands at the last Euros in 2017) and Spain (with their large Barcelona contingent), has reminded everyone of their credentials.
Among the other possible champions are the Netherlands, who may be missing their former mentor Wiegman but still have great players, notably Vivianne Miedema; Sweden, who drew with the Netherlands in the best game of the tournament so far; and France, who appear to have recovered from the disappointment of not winning the Women’s World Cup on home soil in 2019.
The USA Await
Of course, the true superpower in women’s international football is a team that is not at the Euros, namely the USA. They have won the last two Women’s World Cups and have a chance to make themselves the “winningest” World Cup team ever, in either men’s or women’s football, if they can make it a hat-trick of triumphs in Australia/New Zealand in 2023.
However, such has been the depth and strength of European women’s football on display at the Euros over the last ten days that that historic hat-trick is by no means a foregone conclusion. Whoever wins the Women’s Euros this year will fancy their chances of making it a Euros/World Cup double next year, even against the great USA.