After a record breaking World Cup tournament that saw the Lionesses finish runners up, it’s time to sit back, relax and reflect on their tournament overall, look ahead to what’s next for the team, what's next for Wiegman? And look at how these players have changed women’s football for the better yet again in England and across the world.
World Cup Reflection
Well, before the World Cup even began I don’t think many fans expected The Lionesses to make it all the way to the final, especially due to the absence of Euros winning captain Leah Williamson, star forward Beth Mead and midfield sensation Fran Kirby. And with the likes of Ellen White and Jill Scott both retiring. However, the squad of 23 jetted off to Australia full of confidence, fitness, youth and experience, and of course let's not forget they had a world class manager in Sarina Wiegman to guide them through the tournament.
Despite winning their opening two games in the group stages against Haiti and Denmark 1-0, The Lionesses’ performances on the pitch were relatively poor by their standards so something needed to change. In their final group game against China, we saw Sarina Wiegman do something she’d never done before, (especially in a tournament) which was to change formation from a 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2, this allowed her to focus the team around the young and talented sensation that is Lauren James. Boy did that formation change pay off, England cruised to a 6-1 victory, and looked to be back to their goalscoring best!
Next came the knockouts, first up Nigeria in the RO16, The Lionesses held out for a 0-0 draw after extra-time and won on penalties, but arguably the better team which was Nigeria were eliminated from the competition. The Nigerians were physical, pacey and dominated the game overall however, captain Millie Bright, Alex Greenwood, Lucy Bronze, Jess Carter and Rachel Daly all stood firm in defence. Also, this was the game in which Lauren James went from being a hero to getting sent off, for stupidly ‘stamping’ on a players back out of pure frustration, meaning she was banned for the quarter and semi final.
The QF against Colombia was also a feisty encounter, for the first time in the tournament the Lionesses actually went behind, but of course themselves or Sarina Wiegman didn’t panic, and two goals, one from Lauren Hemp and a brilliant finish from Alessia Russo secured the crucial victory and set up a SF clash with co-hosts Australia in Sydney.
Before the tournament began, in April, Australia beat Sarina Wiegman’s England for the first time since she took over, this therefore set up a big clash in Sydney, in front of a crowd of over 75,000 people the Aussies were the favourites to progress to the WC final in their own country. However, yet again England defied the odds and swept the Aussies aside by 3 goals to 1, with goals from Ella Toone, Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo to send the Lionesses into their first ever WC final and Sarina Wiegman into her second consecutive WC final (one with Holland in 2019 and now England in 2023).
So then came the final, England vs Spain in Sydney, a battle between two nations both striving for their first taste of WC glory. England started the game on the front foot and were inches away from taking the lead after Lauren Hemp’s effort struck the crossbar. But just moments later the Lionesses were behind, sloppy play from Lucy Bronze saw her lose the ball in the midfield area, and leave Jess Carter with two players to contend with. Spanish captain Olga Carmona charged up from the back, made a run in behind Jess Carter and fired a shot across keeper Mary Earps to put her side 1-0 up. Sarina Wiegman made some big decisions at half-time bringing both Rachel Daly and Alessia Russo off, and sending on Lauren James and Chloe Kelly. England kept pushing to level the scoreline, however the game looked to be over after Spain were awarded a controversial penalty after a lengthy VAR check, but Mary Earps proved once again why she is the best goalkeeper in the world as she saved Jennifer Hermoso’s kick. Beth England came onto the pitch late on, but in the end the Lionesses just didn’t have enough and lost their first ever WC final 1-0.
Did Sarina get the team right for the final? I’m not so sure, I personally felt Lauren James and Chloe Kelly should have both started as they both looked bright and full of energy and skill when they came on. But with that being said, why should she have changed a winning team and why should she have changed the system as it had worked so well since the China game.
There will always be what ifs over the final, but ultimately the better team which was Spain won on the night thanks to a moment of quality from Carmona.
Overall upon reflection though of England’s WC, The Lionesses should still be incredibly proud of themselves, they might not feel too happy at the moment as they didn’t win that WC trophy which is ultimately what they wanted, but they made HISTORY yet again. They reached their first ever WC final and the nations first ever WC final since 1966, they had their best ever WC run since 2015 where they won a bronze medal, they now have a silver medal and they’ve once again inspired so many more girls in England and across the globe to play football.
What’s next for the Lionesses and Sarina Wiegman?
The team have returned home to England over the last few days, I’m sure they will be spending time with their families and friends as well as reflecting on the last 9 weeks in Australia, and they will of course enjoy some free time before returning to training with their respective clubs. As the return of the WSL and the international domestic leagues is just over a month away.
We will see England play again, they will face off against Scotland on Friday September 22 at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light in the Women’s Nations League.
In terms of Sarina Wiegman, well she is a woman in demand. The USWNT (United States Women) have listed her as a possible target to replace Vlatko Andonovski, who stepped down as manager following their early departure from the WC. Also, over the last few days, Wiegman has also been named as a potential candidate for the Netherlands men’s team job and the FA have even touted her as Gareth Southgates potential successor for the England men’s team. However Lionesses fans shouldn’t worry too much as Wiegman said in an interview that she has “no plans to leave her role” and that she intends to stay as England manager until at least 2025 (when her contract runs out).
How have the Lionesses changed women’s and girls football? (again)
As I said, the Lionesses may not have won the WC but once again they have inspired so many more girls across England and around the world to play football.
We've seen a young girl called Emmy set up a petition for Nike to sell Mary Earps Goalkeeper shirt which has inspired Nike to make a u-turn on their original decision. We've seen girls speaking up and fighting for football to be available in all schools across England. We've seen crowd attendances across all women's tiers going up drastically over the last couple of seasons and as the WWC was the most watched women's tournament ever these attendances will only get better!
So yes England may not have won, but overall they have won over the hearts of the nation yet again by doing us all proud and have inspired us all that if we believe in ourselves anything is possible.
Thank you Lionesses!