England's Euro 2022 Quarter-Final vs Spain Marks Wiegman's First Major Test

The tournament has been a breeze so far for England, but now the real work begins
07:30, 20 Jul 2022

And so it comes to this. England’s Euro 2022 campaign so far has been the stuff of absolute fantasy, but there’s a feeling that things are about to get serious as the Lionesses head into a seismic quarter-final against pre-tournament favourites Spain. 

The two giants perhaps were not meant to meet so soon, but with Germany making the Group of Death look like a doddle, with three wins out of three and no goals conceded, Spain were forced to settle for second spot. It’s a spot they would have loved to have avoided, given the brutal way England dealt with their own group. 

A 1-0 win over Austria was the Lionesses getting their claws into the tournament. Then, they tore Norway limb from limb with a brutal eight goal showing and followed it up with five against Northern Ireland. 14 goals scored, none conceded, tells the story of the most one-sided group you are ever likely to see. 

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But for every England fan, there will be a slight undercurrent of worry heading into the Spain clash. Sarina Wiegman’s team haven’t been tested. At all. Aside from the final couple of minutes against Austria in the Old Trafford opener, they’ve barely had to do any defending, or work without the ball. Mary Earps has faced five shots on her goal across the 270 minutes of play, while England have racked up 27 in that same time period. 

Spain will mark not just an increase in quality for England, but their first real test. Wiegman probably knew, without being overconfident, that her team were going to win the group. It turned into a goalscoring competition that might have won Beth Mead the Golden Boot. The gaffer surprisingly picked an unchanged eleven for the dead rubber against Northern Ireland and if England are knocked out, that decision will surely come in for some criticism. 

But after steamrolling the opposition in their last two games, momentum is well on their side and Wiegman wanted to keep those players in good form ahead of this test. She’s been here before, having won this tournament with the Netherlands in 2017, and will know more than anyone how to cope with the step up in opposition. 

England are just three games away. Three games away from becoming European champions and winning the nation’s first major international football tournament since 1966. And importantly, Spain have not been quite as strong as many predicted ahead of the tournament. It’s clear that losing Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas to an ACL injury in the week leading up to Euro 2022 was an unforeseeable and devastating blow. Spain have an abundance of talent in their squad, but nobody quite like the Barcelona star, and they’ve not quite been as fluid without her. 

Her absence has been noticeable but it hasn’t changed the way Spain play. Like the men’s team from a decade ago, this is a side utterly obsessed with keeping the ball. They had 78% possession in the 4-1 win over Finland and 75% in the 1-0 win over Denmark. Even in that 2-0 loss to Germany, they had 70% of the ball, made almost 400 passes more than their opponents and had more shots on goal. 

The Germans won that game and the group through efficiency, scoring with their only two shots on goal, and England will have to be equally as ruthless. Chances will not be given to them as they were in the group stage, and when they get the chance in front of goal, Mead, Ellen White and Lauren Hemp will have to be ruthless. 

Brighton provided a beautiful backdrop for England eight-goal annihilation of Norway, and the crowd will have to be just as supportive to put the visitors under pressure. The three games so far have been a party for the host nation, and this is the Lionesses tournament to win. Now they have to go out and prove it against one of the best teams on the continent.

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