It’s not just England’s Euro 2022 winners who cannot quite comprehend the magnitude of their achievement, but every England fan. Even two days later, it still seems surreal, counter-intuitive, if not downright impossible – England have won a major international football tournament for only the second time ever and for the first time in the history of the Women’s team. Compared to that, even winning a World Cup will be relatively easy.
A World Cup Win Would Be Easy For England’s Women After Euros Success
We've won this together.
Our family. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/NdFCLUkrqf
— Lionesses (@Lionesses) August 1, 2022
A Historic Achievement
It was a wonder that the engraver could spell ‘England’ correctly on the European Championship trophy, as no engraver in more than half a century has had to add that name to any major piece of international silverware. It is also a wonder that England fans under the age of 60 knew how to celebrate, again never having done so before. Such has been the scale of suffering that the England Men’s AND Women’s football teams have endured over the years (three lost finals in 1996, 2009 and 2021, and six lost semi-finals) that it had genuinely appeared impossible for any England team ever to win a major tournament again, especially at home and especially against a German team who have been even more all-conquering in the women’s game than in the men’s. And yet they did it.
Winning Ugly Was Even More Impressive
What made England’s victory even more difficult to process was not just the opposition that it was achieved against, but the nature of the victory – scrappy, unconvincing and arguably largely undeserved. It came against a German team in which Lena Oberdorf truly played like a young Franz Beckenbauer, seemingly playing in central midfield and central defence simultaneously. Indeed, such was Germany’s greater experience of finals, greater cohesion as a team and simply greater performance on the day that if star striker Alexandra Popp had played instead of missing the game after injuring herself in the warm-up then it is surely inconceivable that they would have lost. But she didn’t play and as a result Germany didn’t win, as they were unable to convert their domination of the ball into clear-cut chances.
England produced probably their worst performance of the tournament in the final itself but still won. Previously, it had been thought that England – any England side, male or female – would have to play at their absolute best to beat Germany, but that was emphatically not the case in the Euro 2022 final. It was the perfect example of a team proving that they are a good team by winning while playing, by their own high standards, badly.
The World Cup in Australia and New Zealand Awaits
Understandably, there has been much talk of what the legacy of this winning England team will be. Well, in addition to inspiring a generation of new players and hopefully proving once and for all the importance of gender equality (or, at the very least, the importance of equality of opportunity for both genders), they will have a chance to build on their sporting legacy almost immediately.
That is because instead of having to wait two years for the next Women’s World Cup, as would ordinarily be the case, they will go again for a major trophy next year, in Australia and New Zealand. And they can go to the Antipodes with enormous confidence that they can make it an extraordinary Euros and World Cup double, and become the first English team of either gender to win two major international tournaments, let alone two in succession.
There will be considerable challenges for England down under, not least the presence in the World Cup of three of the best women’s international teams, none of whom were at the Euros: the USA, co-hosts Australia, and Canada. The USA have a chance to prove themselves arguably the greatest international football team of all time of either gender by winning a third World Cup in a row, which is something that no men’s or women’s team have ever done before; Australia will be playing at home and spearheaded by Chelsea’s superb striker Sam Kerr; and Canada will be hoping to achieve an international double of their own, by adding the World Cup to the Olympic Gold they won in Tokyo last year.
In addition, of course, England will not be playing at home, although there is probably no better place in the world for them to play an away tournament, given that the huge numbers of expatriates (and even second-generation English people) in Australia and New Zealand will offer support at the grounds, if not on the streets, that will be behind only that on offer for the co-hosts.
However, considering what England’s chances might be at the next Women’s World Cup is possibly to miss the point, because it is arguable that even winning the World Cup will not be as great an achievement as winning the Euros for the first time, especially on home soil (which brings enormous pressure as well as enormous support) and especially against a nation who have been spoiling English footballing parties for the last half-century or more.
Sometimes There Are Sporting Achievements BIGGER Than Winning The World Cup
Winning the World Cup or World Championship in your sport is invariably the biggest achievement that any sportsperson can achieve – but not always. That is because there are some sporting achievements that are so remarkable that they are actually even greater than becoming World Champions.
A classic example came earlier this summer when the Irish Men’s rugby union team beat the New Zealand All Blacks for the first time ever in a series in New Zealand, 2-1. While many Irish rugby fans worried whether their team could sustain their form at the Rugby World Cup next year in France (understandably, given that Ireland have never won a single knockout game in any Rugby World Cup ever), others rightly pointed out that beating the mighty All Blacks, statistically the “winningest” team in all of sport, on their home turf was even more impressive than winning the Rugby World Cup. After all, they pointed out, to win a Rugby World Cup, a team would almost certainly only have to beat New Zealand, the perennial favourites for the Rugby World Cup, just once (and certainly only once in knockout play). By contrast, Ireland had just beaten the All Blacks not once, but twice, and in their own stadia.
England’s Euro 2022 triumph is similarly epic, stand-alone and deserving of celebration as a sporting achievement that is arguably even greater than winning the World Cup. That is because even if England’s women win the World Cup next year in Australia and New Zealand, they will not have to face the same pressure that they faced at home this summer, when they were bidding to win a major tournament for the first time. And even if they do win the World Cup, it is highly unlikely that they will face such a concentrated level of high-quality opposition that they faced in winning the Euros, when they not only defeated eight-time winners Germany in the final but thrashed Sweden (ranked second in the world) and Norway (former winners of both the Women’s World Cup and the Women’s Euros) en route to the final, not to mention narrowly beating tournament favourites Spain in the quarter-finals.
Euro 2022 Win is Arguably England’s Greatest Sporting Achievement Since 1966
When all the different factors are borne in mind – playing at home (with all the attendant pressure), the strength of the opposition and above all the fact that they had never won anything before – it is arguable that England’s Euro 2022 win is England’s greatest achievement in any sport since the men’s team won the World Cup in 1966. Indeed, in all other sport, it is possible that only Andy Murray has ever faced so much pressure in trying to overcome long-term historical failure when he finally won Wimbledon in 2013, becoming the first British man to do so for 77 years, or very nearly a century.
England’s football fans may only have had to wait 56 years to celebrate a second major international trophy, but football is a far-higher profile sport than tennis and of course Murray had the chance to win Wimbledon once a year for several years before he finally did so. By contrast, the Lionesses knew that theirs was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to win a major international tournament (of the kind that only come round once every two years at most) and at home. The fact that they did so despite playing nowhere near their best makes their victory a truly historic one – indeed, one that might even overshadow a World Cup win if they were to achieve that, too.