England won their first-ever Major Women’s Championship in spectacular fashion, beating Germany 2-1 after extra time in the Euro 2022 final at Wembley Stadium.
A record crowd of 87,192 for a European Championship final – men or women – saw Chloe Kelly’s first international goal propel the Lionesses to victory over the eight-time winner.
After three defeats in the last hurdle, goals from Kelly and Ella Toone canceled out Lina Magull’s equalizer and sealed the dream ending in a stunning tournament run.
With head coach Sarina Wiegman having never lost a European Championship game – nor a game in charge of England – and Germany having never lost a Euro final, a record has had to fall out at Wembley, the site of a gruesome defeat for the men’s side at the same stadium just over a year ago.
And despite only beating Germany twice in their previous 27 encounters, Wiegman’s side battled to a hard-fought victory to extend the Dutch coach’s impressive streak.
Germany were dealt a heartbreaking blow moments before kick-off when star striker Alexandra Popp, the tournament’s joint top scorer with six goals, suffered a muscle injury during the warm-up.
Replaced in the starting XI by Lea Schüller, he marked a devastating end to what had been a heartwarming story of redemption for the 31-year-old. After missing the previous two Euros through injury, Popp had largely made up for lost time, equaling the record for the tournament’s highest goalscoring tally – set by compatriot Inka Grings in 2009 – with one game to spare.
Popp’s visible anguish as she left the pitch contrasted sharply with the euphoric atmosphere of a sold-out Wembley Stadium as kick-off drew nearer, with singers Becky Hill, Steflon Don and Ultra Naté taking the center circle to host the match pre-show.
With the surrounding area of the pitch teeming with fans and flags several hours before kick-off, it was fitting preparation for the end of a tournament that had broken records long before the trophy was lifted.
The total of 487,683 fans who had attended the matches leading up to the final more than doubled the previous tournament attendance record set at Euro 2017 in the Netherlands.
And that was before the historic rise in numbers at Wembley, which broke the existing record for a men’s or women’s Euros final set at Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in 1964.
Buoyed by home support, England started off on the right foot. Fran Kirby carved out an early chance with a teasing cross for Ellen White at the far post, but the Manchester City striker could only head his way into the arms of Merle Frohms.
It would mark the first in a string of opportunities for White in a wary first half of a few golden chances, with both defenses continuing the iron-fisted form that saw them arrive at Wembley conceding just once. times the whole tournament.
Compounded by a rapid succession of yellow cards for Georgia Stanway and White, frustration quickly turned to fear for England as a corner kick caused carnage on the goal line. Flipping inches from the line, the ball looked destined to settle in the net before being gratefully snuffed out by England keeper Mary Earps.
Dealing with player complaints would set the tone for a busy day for referee Kateryna Monzul, who handed out six yellow cards and stopped play for 36 fouls throughout a combative and hard fought fight.
England’s best chance of the half came five minutes before the break as a Beth Mead cut found White surging in the box but the lopsided 33-year-old couldn’t hold it off.
It was Germany’s turn to fly after the restart, Tabea Wassmuth almost punishing Millie Bright for miscommunication just two minutes into the second half. But after running down the left, Wassmuth could only fire directly at Earps.
Wiegman sounded the changes as Germany continued their fast start, Kirby and White giving way to Toone and Alessia Russo. With four goals – all from the bench – Russo had been the tournament’s unofficial sub going into the final, but it was Toone who would steal the crown at Wembley.
After a perfectly weighed long ball from Keira Walsh split the German defence, the Manchester United striker found herself on the safe side against Frohms’ blistering form. His answer ? The most exquisite of chips that rose on the goalkeeper and inside.
If the finishing was skilful, the answer was anything but, as Wembley erupted in ecstatic scenes unseen under the arch since Luke Shaw’s strike gave the men’s side an early lead at the opposite end of the field a little over a year ago.
Like so many tournaments in England before, this story ended in tears, and another painful chapter seemed about to be written when Magull sent home a deserved equalizer 10 minutes from time.
As Wiegman’s side dived deeper and deeper to protect their advantage, the pressure finally eased when a well-worked move saw Wassmuth slip a low cross into Bayern Munich’s midfield at the near post, who cleverly pushed into the roof of the net to level.
Magull closed in again in a biting finish to regulation time, the euphoric atmosphere of just minutes ago replaced by nervous tension, momentarily interrupted by a rousing reception for Jill Scott’s introduction.
By replacing Georgia Stanway, the 35-year-old midfielder became the first English footballer to play in two international tournament finals.
Tempers flared during a nervous overtime of a few chances and plenty of crisp tackles, with Scott embroiled in an angry exchange with Sydney Lohmann after she tripped the German.
As the legs were tired and the penalties were closing in, England forced a corner with 10 minutes remaining. Lucy Bronze dropped the ball into the path of Kelly who, after a miss, pushed the ball over the line for his first international goal at the most opportune moment.
Cue pure heckling, momentarily frozen by Kelly stopping to check with referee Monzul that his goal had counted. Ripping off his shirt in celebration, the 24-year-old received what is sure to be the most heartily received yellow card of her career.
Strenuous efforts to keep the ball in the corner slowed time as the Wembley crowd pushed their players over the line, with Monzul’s final whistle setting off the biggest roar to date.
Just in time, “Three Lions” blared from the stadium speakers. After 56 years of suffering, football had – finally – come home.