London: England women’s captain Leah Williamson called on the Lionesses to seize the opportunity of a lifetime with the host nation gripped for Sunday’s Euro 2022 final against Germany at Wembley.
A tournament that has smashed attendance records will get a fitting finale with a crowd of 87,000 expected to set a new high for a final at either the men’s or women’s European Championship.
England have never won a major tournament in the women’s game and have waited 56 years for any triumph since the men’s 1966 World Cup.
“Tomorrow is a day of opportunity,” said Williamson on the eve of the game.
“That’s the only thing that makes it any different to any other game, that the stakes are that much higher. But this is what we all live for and this is why I play football.”
Anticipation is reaching fever pitch in a nation where women’s football was banned for nearly 50 years until 1970.
On top of a sold-out Wembley, a crowd of 7,000 is set to congregate to watch the final on big screens in London’s Trafalgar Square.
Sunday’s newspapers were awash with headlines willing England to take the final step.
“Let them roar again,” ran the front page of the Sunday Times alongside a picture of Williamson.
“Bring it home,” said the front cover of The Observer sport section, which added an all-female RAF flypast with grace the skies above Wembley.
Outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid tribute to the impact Sarina Wiegman’s women will have on the future of the game.
“The pitches and playgrounds and parks of this country will be filled as never before with girls and women who know beyond any shadow of a doubt that football is not just for boys – it really is for everyone,” Johnson wrote in a letter addressed to Wiegman, Williamson and the rest of the England squad.
– Pressure on England –
Wiegman is unbeaten in 19 games since taking charge of England in September.
The reserved Dutch coach has achieved her goal of inspiring a nation, but admitted earlier this week to wanting to hide in her own “bunker” to block out the hype around the final.
“I’m not stupid. I see things happening and it’s really incredible,” said Wiegman. “I really enjoy that too, but then you come back to what your job is, and that’s getting ready for Germany.”
Germany boss Martina Voss-Tecklenburg said all the pressure was on England as they try to deal with the weight of expectation from the home crowd.
Despite the prospect of facing a hostile atmosphere, Voss-Tecklenburg said she would not have wished for the eight-time winners to face anyone other than England in the final.
“It will be a football feast with millions of spectators all over Europe,” added Voss-Tecklenburg. “At the beginning of the game, Wembley will be English and it would be nice if it belonged to us at the end.”
Tournament organisers UEFA are also under the spotlight after the chaotic scenes around last year’s men’s European Championship final at Wembley and the Champions League final in Paris in May.
England’s men were forced to play a game behind closed doors last month after violent clashes marred the end to Euro 2020 as fans charged the turnstiles in a bid to see the Three Lions’ defeat on penalties to Italy.
A strict no alcohol zone has been put in place around the stadium with fans without tickets strongly urged to not to travel to the stadium.
“The numbers are amazing but the biggest surprise for me is the ones who are surprised that women’s football is at such a level,” said UEFA president Aleksandr Ceferin.