Road to the Finals: Lionesses Take Center Stage
For the first time in their history, the Lionesses are about to play in a World Cup final. Although we’re just over three weeks into the summer’s biggest tournament, England’s quest for the trophy has been in the works for years.
Their journey truly started four years ago, when they fell to the United States in the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup. This was England’s third World Cup in a row going out in the semi-finals, failing to reach that coveted final match. The federation was determined to fix it, set on finally breaking into the final. Enter Sarina Weigman.
Weigman was with the Dutch at the time, coaching the Netherlands into the final, where they would ultimately get second place. In August of 2020, the FA announced a deal to hire Weigman for the next four years, allowing her to coach England through a full cycle including the Olympics and the World Cup. Weigman took over in September of 2021, and saw the Lionesses through the EUROs, leading them to their first major title win ever.
There’s no doubting Sarina’s impact. She’s managed the Lionesses for 38 games, and 32 of those have been wins. She led them on their longest undefeated streak ever, where they would go on to be undefeated for thirty games while taking on opponents like Germany and the United States. Weigman is the first coach to ever take two different teams all the way to the World Cup final.
The standout stars on England are many, but a few to keep your eye on include captain and center-back Millie Bright, young superstars and best friends Ella Toone and Alessia Russo, midfield maestro Kiera Walsh, brick wall Mary Earps, and veteran Lucy Bronze, the only Lioness on this World Cup team with over 100 caps for her country. The Lionesses have had to adapt to the injury epidemic sweeping women’s football. They’re at the World Cup without their usual captain Leah Williamson, one of their star strikers Beth Mead, and impressive midfielder Fran Kirby. But England has shown impressive flexibility and depth, which has served them well throughout this tournament.
Comparatively, the English had a relatively easy route out of the group stage. They finished at the top of Group D, made up of China, Denmark, and Haiti, as one of three teams to win every group stage match, leaving them with a perfect record headed into knockouts. Then things got a little more difficult.
England faced off against Nigeria in the Round of 16 and barely made it past the African nation. When the English had the ball, they couldn't figure out what to do with it and were unable to pass the stalwart Nigerian defense. The front line simply wasn't clicking, and the Lionesses had only 12 shots in comparison to Nigeria's 20. They managed to hold each other scoreless, sending another Round of 16 game to penalties. England came out on top, with Chloe Kelly showing up big time to secure the win. But they also lost Lauren James to a red card for intentionally stepping on Michelle Alozie and getting sent off for unsportsmanlike conduct. It would later be announced that James would be serving a two-game suspension, leaving her out of the lineup until the final match.
But the English adjusted and persevered, continuing on to play Colombia in the quarter-finals where they looked more put together. With James serving a suspension, Ella Toone stepped into starting lineup. They allowed Colombia to get on the board first but didn't stop pushing and found an equalizer through Lauren Hemp before the half was up. They got the game-winner from Alessia Russo in the second half, just after the hour mark, sending them through to the semi-finals. Those goals were Hemp and Russo's second goals in the tournament, a testament to breakout stars and mixing in youth, something that England has done so well.
Playing the host country in a World Cup is not an easy task, and with the excitement stirred by the Matlidas in this tournament, it was bound to be even more difficult. England knew what it felt like to go out in the semis, and they weren't interested in feeling that again. Although Australia put up a fight, England controlled this game from start to finish with three goals. They recovered quickly after conceding the Sam Kerr equalizer and sealed the deal with a last-minute Russo tap-in.
It's not surprising that England are in this final, they've been the favorite to win the whole thing ever since the United States was eliminated. But that means all the pressure is on them to perform and finally get that first star.
The Lionesses will take on Spain in the World Cup final on Sunday, August 20th at 6 am EST, attempting to make history and bring home their first-ever World Cup trophy.