After a dream preliminary round, hosts England are riding a wave of euphoria into the quarter-finals of the European Football Championship against Spain. “Football is coming home,” some Lionesses fans have been singing recently, but now the toughest test yet awaits.
“Spain has a fantastic team. But we are ready,” said striker Lauren Hemp before the top match on Wednesday.
England had ploughed through the group with nine points and 14-0 goals, culminating in an 8-0 win over Norway in Brighton.
The English return to the seaside resort on the south coast with a tactical dilemma: should the team continue to seek its salvation in the offensive or take a cue from the German team, which disenchanted Spain with a defensive approach and merciless efficiency?
Team manager Sarina Wiegman can only decide on the strategy from a distance; the Dutch player tested positive for Corona and waited in vain for clearance until Tuesday morning.
“It’s frustrating, of course, but we have rehearsed these scenarios. She is still close to us, which is good,” Hemp said.
For the fourth time in a row, England could reach the semi-finals at a major tournament. Before the European Championship, Spain would have been favourites, but now both world player Alexia Putellas and Spain’s record goal scorer Jennifer Hermoso are absent due to injury.
Coach Jorge Vilda nevertheless remains optimistic. “Of course, this will be the toughest European Championship game so far given the level England are playing at – and they are the hosts, with the fans behind them. But that’s something that motivates us,” said the 41-year-old: “We like challenges.”
The two teams are meeting for only the second time at a European Championship, with England having won 2-0 in the group stage in 2017. While England reached the semi-finals at the last European Championship, Spain have only reached the last four in 1997.