As the Lionesses face Germany on Sunday afternoon (31 July) in the final of Euro 2022, fans of Chelsea Women will be among the most eager spectators.
Fran Kirby and Millie Bright have started every game for the host nation, dominating midfield and defence and providing the springboard for Beth Mead and Alessa Russo to score the crucial goals which have propelled the team to Wembley.
Their Chelsea teammates Beth England and Jess Carter have been on standby to come on as subs (with Carter making a brief cameo appearance in the 5-0 victory over Northern Ireland).
The tournament has already given women’s football a huge boost in the UK, with an estimated 16 million people expected to tune in to Sunday’s sold-out final, which kicks off at 5pm and is live on BBC1. Wembley is anticipating 85,000 spectators.
Keeping the faith
For Kirby and Bright – both tipped to start for the Lionesses as manager Sarina Wiegman has kept faith with the same opening line-up – it represents a chance to join the elite group of 1966 England World Cup winners as victorious players in a major international football tournament on home turf.
“It will be incredible for people in this country to have something to celebrate and enjoy,” said Kirby, adding that an England win would “put a smile on people’s faces” and provide a welcome distraction from the stresses and strains of life.
“They may be going through a hard time in terms of the rising fuel costs and the cost of living right now, but hopefully we can give people an escape for 90+ minutes when they turn their TVs on and see how passionately we play for this country.”
The standard of the skills, build-up play, defending and goal-scoring has won over a legion of new fans as Euro 2022 has played out, culminating in the final which throws up an intriguing possible meeting between a romantic couple on different sides of the national divide.
Chelsea stars Jess Carter and Ann-Katrin Berger are not only teammates but soulmates, with an outside chance – if the final goes to dreaded penalties – that the left back could be facing the German keeper in a shoot-out.
As part of Chelsea Women’s watertight defence, the pair have developed a real understanding on the pitch in the past couple of years, alongside Millie Bright and Swedish captain Magda Eriksson.
Just like Eriksson and Danish striker Pernille Harder – another Chelsea couple – Carter and Berger have been in a relationship for years; one that began when Berger joined Carter at Birmingham City in 2018.
So far, German coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg has opted to use Merle Frohms between the sticks... a decision fully justified by the clean sheets the keeper kept right up to the semi-final against France, when an unfortunate ricochet off her derriere briefly levelled the scores.
But Berger has the advantage of knowing all the English players well, having minded goal against all of them since she joined the Blues from Birmingham in 2019, and might therefore get the nod to start Sunday’s match.
As if any extra incentive was needed for the Lionesses, each squad player is in line for a £55,000 bonus from the Football Association if England lifts the trophy on Sunday.
England would have been just as happy to meet France in the final, a clash which would have given fans a chance to run the rule over Chelsea’s new hard-tackling, no-nonsense right-back Eve Perisset. The 27-year-old, signed in early summer from Bordeaux, has 40 caps for Les Bleues.
Whatever happens on Sunday, the Lionesses’ glorious run in the Euro 2022 tournament is expected to add hundreds, if not thousands, to attendances at every Women’s Super League match in the coming season.
Chelsea host West Ham at Kingsmeadow on Sunday September 11 at 2pm as the defending champions look to make a strong start, followed by a trek to face newly promoted Liverpool a week later.
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