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Is Euro 2022 the Payoff for England’s Women’s Soccer Play?


BURTON-ON-TRENT, England — It was only 13 years ago, England defender Lucy Bronze figures as she scrolls through her memories, when she needed to pack bags in a supermarket to earn the cash she needed for her bus fare to Derby, where she and her Sunderland teammates were to play within the Women’s F.A. Cup Final. It was only a few years after that when she was still juggling her nascent profession at Everton with a job at Domino’s Pizza.

Fast forward to 2022. The rapid rise of ladies’s soccer in England, and in much of western Europe, is such that Bronze and nearly every other top skilled waved goodbye to those sorts of side jobs way back. Today, Bronze is widely known as among the best women’s players on the planet: a three-time Champions League winner, Barcelona’s star summer signing and a key member of an England team that harbors ambitions of winning this month’s European Women’s Championship.

“Here we’re, in 2022, and players get like helicopters to do appearances,” Bronze, 30, said after an England training session in June. “Do you recognize what I mean? It’s gone up to now, so quickly, and I don’t think anyone could have forecast how huge it was going to be.”

That makes the beginning of this summer’s Women’s Euros, a three-and-a-half-week tournament that opens with the host England’s match against Austria on Wednesday night, one other pivotal moment for the sport experiencing a surge in each interest and investment.

A minimum of a half-dozen nations will arrive in England’s stadiums considering they will lift the trophy after the ultimate on July 31. However the pressure to achieve this may be the very best on the host nation, which continues to pump thousands and thousands of dollars into the game but has yet to win a significant women’s trophy.

The stakes for England are high: It’s going to roll into the tournament fresh off lopsided victories over three other tournament participants — Belgium (3-0), the Netherlands (5-1) and Switzerland (4-0) — and desperate to construct on a semifinal run on the last World Cup, with the following one now only a 12 months away. The Lionesses, as England’s team is understood, haven’t lost a match since Sarina Wiegman took over as their coach in September.

Meaning there isn’t a hiding from the expectations. The faces of England players now adorn billboards in shopping centers and packaging on store shelves. The BBC will air every one in all the tournament’s games on its channels or (for just a few simultaneous kickoffs) its streaming platform. And England’s three group-stage matches are already sold out.

Greater than 500,000 tickets to the tournament have been sold, guaranteeing the tournament’s attendance will greater than double that of its last iteration, in 2017 within the Netherlands. The majority of those that end up to cheer England shall be expecting the host nation to set a recent standard.

That might be why Wiegman has made an effort to moderate expectations. “I believe there are various favorites for this tournament,” she said recently. “We’re one in all them.”

Still, her players know the sport’s sudden growth, in addition to the possibility to play a significant tournament on home soil, has placed them in a pivotal moment.

“I didn’t really have a female role model growing up by way of football, so I believe it’s massive for that,” England midfielder Keira Walsh, 25, who plays for Manchester City, said of getting the Euros on home soil. “But not only for young girls — I believe for young boys, they will see the ladies playing in the large stadiums with sellout crowds at a house tournament. I believe it’s only going to grow respect for the sport in that way as well.”

The tournament comes during an exciting time for girls’s soccer in Europe. Its 16-team lineup features a number of the world’s most talented squads, including Sweden, currently ranked second on the planet; the Netherlands, a World Cup finalist three years ago; Germany, an eight-time European champion; and Spain, which boasts Alexia Putellas, the reigning world player of the 12 months (or not; Putellas sustained a knee injury on Tuesday). Norway is bolstered by the return of Ada Hegerberg, and France by the core of that country’s dominant club teams, Olympique Lyonnais and Paris St.-Germain.

It’s England, though, that will face the very best expectations to deliver.

Historic investments by the country’s biggest clubs within the Women’s Super League, England’s top domestic competition, have attracted a number of the world’s best players, produced recent revenue streams and lifted the usual of play for a recent generation of England stars. All but one member of England’s 23-player Euro squad played within the W.S.L. last season, including the veterans Bronze and Ellen White and rising talents similar to Walsh and Lauren Hemp.

“We’ve seen, through the years, how much the ladies’s game has grown,” said Hemp, 21, who this 12 months was honored as England’s best young women’s player for a record fourth time. “I believe having this home tournament is barely going to assist it grow much more.”

For all of the gains, though, players, even the perfect ones, know there continues to be an extended solution to go. The investments within the W.S.L. remain a fraction of the cash poured into the lads’s game in Europe, and the salaries, television deals and prize money — while significantly improved — still qualify as a rounding error in comparison with the lads’s paydays.

UEFA, the governing body for European soccer, has faced criticism over its selections of stadiums within the group stages, with Iceland’s Sara Björk Gunnarsdottir branding the usage of Manchester City’s Academy Stadium, with a tournament capability of 4,700, as “disrespectful.” And a survey of two,000 male soccer fans in Britain published earlier this 12 months found that two-thirds had “openly misogynistic attitudes” toward women’s sports, regardless of age.

Still, for veterans like Bronze, the tournament shows how far the ladies’s game has come and presents a possibility to lift its profile much more. The brand new crop of young players she sees at training day-after-day, she said, exhibit a fearlessness that she didn’t have at their age and symbolize a future — for themselves and for England — that might be even brighter.

“I have a look at a number of the players now, who possibly haven’t been to a tournament, and I believe, ‘Oh, God, after I was you, I used to be panicking a bit more,’” Bronze said. “But all of them seem a little bit bit more calm.”

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