Georgia Stanway scores the goal their tournament deserves, England – so praiseworthy, so resilient – reach the semi-finals.
The show goes on thanks to a great character show. Because what made that 2-1 quarter-final win over Spain all the more impressive in so many ways was the fact that England were second-best so often. It was certainly far from their best performance. However, that made it the instant match of the tournament and brought out some of England’s best qualities; the kind of intangible strengths that really make champions; the kind of qualities that only emerge on nights like this, when the tension of it all is more excitingly suffocating than the summer weather.
All of this set the stage for the sweetest and loudest celebration in Brighton, something beyond anything Euro 2022 has offered to date.
Meanwhile, Sarina Wiegman had to find another way. One of the big debates following this win will be whether she will now need to play a different starting XI – with the most notable change in attack and perhaps midfield given the worrying sight of Keira Walsh going deep into overtime.
At the moment, just after such an important win for reasons well beyond this tournament, only the win that came from their changes matters.
Ella Toone equalized. Alessia Russo will surely make her way into the team now.
Of so much frenetic energy, however, there was one fixed point that stood firm to rise above it all. That was the star who may now have confirmed himself as a player of this tournament in Stanway.
Fittingly, their winner went into the net in extra time, a visual representation of the English mood during that game.
However, it was a rare moment of pure release in those 120 minutes that made it all the sweeter.
Even Stanway had looked like she was being overshadowed by Aitana Bonmati. England has long been overwhelmed by Spain.
Wiegman’s team received much-needed testing from the first lap but were ultimately denied. It would have narrowly prevented them from advancing to a semi-final for the first time since 2013.
What might that have said about Wiegman as a tournament specialist?
It’s important to remember that for long stretches the game threatened to become something far worse than a test. That was to be England’s greatest lesson.
That’s what makes the win really special.
There were long periods when it looked like it could be a Spanish show. They started straight away as if they knew they were technically better footballers. That was only underscored by their intense pressure on the back line and forcing errors on the rare moments in the English half when Spain weren’t in possession of the ball. Wiegman’s team just couldn’t play it to the same level from behind.
Aitana, meanwhile, looked on another level. She dominated the game the way she is a classic Spanish midfielder and almost the entire game started off her feet.
However, as is also common with Spain at the time, this meant that their game required a great deal of patience. They continue to produce so many creators but so few finishers, which is all the more pronounced without Alexia Putellas.
They had so much possession but were so prone to sudden breaks, as warned with Ellen White’s disallowed goal. It ensured that moment gave something to England, even if it wasn’t a goal. Wiegman’s team, already prone to crosses, became even more direct. This almost served as Chekov’s weapon of the game, waiting to be fired.
Spain, having lost some of their dominance, realized they needed something different. Athenea del Castillo came on at half-time. That actually made the difference.
It was her clearance down the right that eventually created enough space in the box, allowing Esther Gonzalez to touch and finish. It was a moment that came as a real relief for Spain considering how they sometimes struggled with possession, but it wasn’t one Rachel Daly will look back on too fondly.
Spain began to focus entirely on this side.
England had to focus on direct balls. Wiegman had to make some big calls. All of Beth Mead, White, and Fran Kirby have been removed. So was Daly, understandably.
One question out of all of this will be White’s starting position versus Russo.
It was another substitute in Toone who offered the equalizer, but only after Stanway’s innovation.
This reflected that not everything came directly from England. Stanway’s touch controlled the movement before Toone controlled it.
Spain felt it was a foul. They began to lose their composure. The truth was that they were repulsed, their confidence shattered along with their composure and their entire game plan shattered by airballs.
The game went one way in the final minutes of regulation time. Spain desperately needed the break.