With England’s opening Euro 2022 game against Austria at Old Trafford just days away, Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses go into the tournament looking to right the wrongs of the past.
Playing on home soil, they are expected not only to brush aside Group A opponents that also include two-time winners Norway and Euro debutants Northern Ireland, but also go all the way to the showpiece Wembley final on July 31.
Should they do so, it would herald a landmark moment for Women’s football in England, claiming a first piece of international silverware after years of frustrating heartbreak.
And they’ve had plenty of near misses – runners-up in both the inaugural 1984 competition and in 2009 while also reaching the semi-finals of the last two Women’s World Cups.
During the last Euros, England were eventually knocked out at the semi-final stage by hosts the Netherlands, with then head coach Wiegman’s Dutch side going on to beat Denmark 4-2 in the final.
With Wiegman now at the Lionesses’ helm, they have a manager with a pedigree capable of successfully navigating a major tournament alongside the added pressure that comes with being the host nation.
Reflecting on the challenge that lies ahead, Wiegman told London Football Scene: “I think the whole game has improved so much since 2017 and there are so many really good countries.
“The competition is going to be really tough and we are going to get some very competitive games.
“We want to do really well and the longer we stay in the tournament I think we can give the development of the game a real boost in this country.”
England certainly enter the tournament in great shape – unbeaten in 14 games since Wiegman’s appointment, including winning all three pre-tournament warm-up matches against Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
One criticism of past England sides though has been a perceived lack of squad depth and a real attacking threat that has prevented the Lionesses from taking the final step to success.
However, this time out, it feels like the England manager has plenty of options – so much so that Wiegman felt comfortable enough leaving former captain Steph Houghton out of the final squad.
The squad still includes a strong selection of experienced players with Lucy Bronze, Ellen White, Alex Greenwood, Demi Stokes, Millie Bright, Jill Scott and Nikita Parris all returning following their Euro 2017 involvement.
They also welcome back Chelsea’s Fran Kirby after the forward ended her season early due to a fatigue problem while Chloe Kelly is set to make her tournament debut after recovering from an ACL injury last season.
Prior to her injury, Kelly was setting the WSL alight, producing 21 goal contributions in 21 games (scoring 10 and assisting 11) in an impressive debut campaign with Manchester City.
The 24-year-old provides England with another clinical edge to help reduce the load on fellow striker White and offers something different with her ability to take on defences as well as cut inside.
In total, nine players are set to make their first appearance in a major tournament squad with Kelly joined by goalkeepers Ellie Roebuck and Hannah Hampton, defenders Jess Carter and Lotte Wubben-Moy and forwards Alessia Russo, Ella Toone, Lauren Hemp and Bethany England.
Renowned as one of the world’s best women’s footballers, Lucy Bronze knows a bit about quality and the Manchester City defender believes England’s squad depth is something other nations will be fearing.
Following the comprehensive 3-0 win over Belgium, Bronze said: “Speaking to one of the Belgium players they said our bench was frightening.
“It means we can tire teams out for 60 minutes and then bring on another load which is fantastic for us.
“It gives us a lot of options going into the tournament and means that we don’t have to heavily rely on the same players.”
Despite the competition for places, one player tipped for a break-out month on the international stage is this season’s PFA Young Player of the Year, Lauren Hemp.
The 21-year-old winger will be looking to build on the 16 goals in 22 WSL games for Manchester City last season with her dynamic pace and dribbling ability.
With her clinical finishing and ability to find a pass, fellow England team-mate Millie Bright insists Hemp is a defender’s nightmare, saying: “We know her strength one v one and she’s got that extreme pace that I don’t think any defender would like to face.”
With the curtain-raiser at a sold-out Old Trafford, it promises to be an exciting summer where maybe, just maybe, England finally have a national side that can take the final step to glory.