Euro 2022: England hype, Norway's returning star, Spain's injury blow

That there’s such hype around England makes it all the more liable to ridicule given that the tournament they’re staging features the five European nations situated above them in Fifa’s rankings
Euro 2022: England hype, Norway's returning star, Spain's injury blow

PRESSURE: 21-year-old England star Lauren Hemp (right) has had a breakout year with Man City. Pic: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

Women’s Euro 2022 

England v Austria, Weds (8pm) 

Old Trafford, Live RTÉ 2.

If Euro glory for the men’s team last summer was the expectation for the English public, there’s a demand on the women’s team to bring the trophy home.

That there’s such hype around the side makes it all the more liable to ridicule given that the tournament they’re staging features the five European nations situated above them in Fifa’s rankings.

England might not have the depth of quality that Sweden and Germany possess but they controlled what they could by headhunting the last manager to shock the superpowers.

Current Ireland boss Vera Pauw was overlooked for a second term at her native Netherlands in 2016, a decision she contends was motivated by her complaints of sexual misconduct, but the preferred candidate Sarina Wiegman oversaw their greatest success to date at the Euros eight months later.

Her remit when succeeding Phil Neville was straightforward: upgrade England from the bridesmaids of semi-finalists of the last three major tournaments to champions – a first for any England senior team since 1966.

It all starts tonight before a sell-out crowd at Old Trafford against Austria, one of the sides they’ve accounted for on a 14-match unbeaten run. More important than the positive goal difference of 81 along that streak is victories in the past six months over the Germans and Dutch, the latter a 5-1 throttling only a fortnight ago.

"We started our preparations last September and we have just worked from week to week," outlined Wiegman about the careful build-up. "It is just about doing the same things we always do; focus on our style of play as a team and as individuals.” 

Uppermost among the array of match-winners is Lauren Hemp. Manchester City’s failure to challenge the Women’s Super League duopoly of Chelsea and Arsenal didn’t detract from the attacker’s rise, her 21 goals and 10 assists a fine return. 

Heaping the weight of a nation on a 21-year-old, however, is a burden Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen know all about. They are also depending on another playmaker, Fran Kirby, magically regaining her match fitness.

Illness prevented her lining out for Chelsea since February and her inclusion, while the popular ex-captain Steph Houghton wasn’t deemed match-ready from her comeback, has already been locked away as potential artillery to attack the managerial import.

“We're not robots,” reasoned Leah Williams, Houghton’s replacement as skipper at just 25. “We're aware of the expectation. Within the camp, it's about the excitement and enjoying it. This is my job. If I wasn't ready for this game, why would I do it?"

Nothing bar victory will suffice against a nation that also reached the semi-final stage five years ago. Especially given Ada Hegerberg and Norway await in Brighton next Monday. The Vikings, one of only three countries alongside Sweden and eight-time champions Germany to lift the trophy before the Dutch, flopped to three group defeats last time out but that was while the highest goalscorer in Champions League history was an international exile.

The Lyon striker is back to her best since reversing her decision in March, as tournament debutants Northern Ireland could be ruthlessly exposed to in Thursday’s other Group A fixture at Gavin Bazunu’s new home of Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium.

Lyon’s primary rivals in the Champions League in recent years, Barcelona, supply the bulk of a Spanish squad but Hegerberg’s first European successor as Ballon D’Or Féminin winner, Alexia Putellas, has been ruled out with an ACL injury suffered in training. 

Her absence from a group campaign that includes Germany is unquantifiable. Their first game is on Friday against Ireland’s rivals for a World Cup play-off spot, Finland, at MK Dons.

Ireland's sense of regret at blowing their qualification chances against a Ukraine side outclassed by Northern Ireland in the subsequent play-off will only amplify when they observe three teams located behind them in the rankings gracing the biggest football event of the summer. 

Captain Katie McCabe has even vowed to endure the pain of watching the action first-hand across the stadia. Anything that acts as an incentive to avoid prolonging their tournament drought has to be welcomed.

Women’s Euros: The groups:

Group A: England, Austria, Norway, Northern Ireland.

Group B: Germany, Denmark, Spain, Finland.

Group C: Netherlands, Sweden, Portugal, Switzerland.

Group D: France, Italy, Belgium, Iceland.

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