Euro 2022: Biggest women’s sporting event in European history ready for lift-off

Host country: England Dates: 6-31 July Venues: Old Trafford, Manchester; St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton; Amex Stadium, Brighton; Stadium MK, Milton Keynes; Brentford Community Stadium; Leigh Sports Village; Bramall Lane, Sheffield; Academy Stadium, Manchester; New York Stadium, Rotherham; Wembley Stadium.
Coverage: All 31 games will be shown live across the BBC. Click here for more information

The Women’s European Championship starts on Wednesday when hosts England take on Austria, with organisers saying: “Let’s go and make history.”

A record-breaking 500,000 tickets – twice as many as attended the previous Euros in the Netherlands in 2017 – have been sold, with the final being staged at a sold-out Wembley on 31 July.

England are favourites to win Euro 2022, according to data analysts Nielsen’s Gracenote.

Their opening group game with Austria, which will be watched by 70,000-plus inside Old Trafford, is the first of 31 matches across 25 days which are all being shown live on the BBC.

Sixteen teams – including debutants Northern Ireland and holders the Netherlands – will compete in the first Women’s European Championship to be staged in England since 2005.

Seventeen years on, tournament organisers Uefa – European football’s governing body – has labelled the 13th edition as the “biggest women’s sporting event in European history”.

“We can’t wait to get the ball rolling,” said Nadine Kessler, Uefa chief of women’s football.

The half a million tickets already sold have been purchased from 99 countries, and Kessler added: “Who would have thought that for a women’s tournament?

“That is simply fantastic. It shows how high our expectation is and what we want to achieve.”

First Women’s Euros for five years

The Women’s Euros is usually held every four years and, after the Netherlands won it in 2017, it should have taken place in 2021.

It was pushed back 12 months after the men’s 2020 European Championship and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were both postponed until 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

When England previously staged the tournament in 2005, venues across the North West – Blackpool, Manchester, Blackburn, Warrington and Preston – were used.

This time games are being staged across the country although no venues in the Midlands or North East will host games.

It will also be the first time that Video Assistant Referee technology has been used at a Women’s European Championship.

Low-priced tickets and record crowds

Uefa have made 700,000-plus tickets available. The previous edition staged in the Netherlands was watched by 240,045 fans.

Ticket prices have been kept low to attract families. They range from £5 to £50 meaning a family of four can watch a match for as little as £30.

The decision to use the Manchester City Academy Stadium – which will have a reduced capacity of under 5,000 for the Euros – has been criticised.

“It’s embarrassing,” said Iceland midfielder Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir, whose side play two of their three group games at the home of Manchester City’s women’s team. “It’s disrespectful towards women’s football because it’s so much bigger than people think.”

Almost 100,000 international fans are expected to attend matches while a global television audience of 250 million-plus is expected to watch.

There is pressure on the organisers to deliver an event that draws fans in beyond the Euros.

“We are confident that many matches will be sold out and are looking forward to more than doubling the total attendance of Uefa Women’s Euro 2017 in the Netherlands,” said a Euro 2022 spokesperson.

Group A fixtures at Euro 2022 sees England face Northern Ireland on 15 July

Which countries are taking part – and who are the big hitters?

Germany are by far the most successful side in the tournament’s history with eight triumphs, including six in a row between 1995 and 2013. The other winners are Norway (1987, 1993), Sweden (1984) and the Netherlands (2017).

Six of the world’s top 10 are taking part: Sweden (2nd in Fifa’s rankings), France (3rd), Netherlands (4th), Germany (5th), Spain (7th) and England (8th).

The 16 teams are divided into four groups of four. The top two go through to the quarter-finals, where it becomes a straight knockout.

England boss Sarina Wiegman led her native country, the Netherlands, to European glory five years ago.

While the Lionesses are predicted to win by Nielsen’s Gracenote, they forecast a “wide open tournament” with Sweden, Germany, France and the Netherlands serious contenders.

“There is nearly 80% chance that this year’s European champions will come from this quintet,” they add.

Group A: England, Austria, Norway, Northern Ireland. Venues: Manchester (Old Trafford), Southampton, Brighton.

Group B: Germany, Denmark, Spain, Finland. Venues: Milton Keynes, Brentford.

Group C: Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal. Venues: Leigh, Sheffield (Bramall Lane).

Group D: France, Italy, Belgium, Iceland. Venues: Manchester (Academy Stadium), Rotherham.

Five players to look out for

Ada Hegerberg (Norway): Quit the national team in 2017 in protest at a perceived lack of respect for female players, but the inaugural Ballon d’Or winner returned to the international scene in April and is looking to make her mark at Euro 2022.

Vivianne Miedema (Netherlands): The Arsenal striker is at the top of her game and is hoping to add another European title to her CV after helping the Netherlands win Euro 2017.

Pernille Harder (Denmark): The Chelsea midfielder is Denmark’s all-time leading scorer and captained them to the Euro 2017 final.

Lauren Hemp (England): The Manchester City winger, 21, who was named the Women’s Super League’s young player of the year for a record-breaking fourth season in a row, has been on-fire for club and country, winning many plaudits for her eye-catching runs and goals.

Wendie Renard (France): The Lyon defender, 31, has won a record 14 French league titles and eight European Cups and is captain of club and country.

Will England deliver?

There is pressure on the Lionesses to deliver a first European crown in front of their own fans.

They have twice come close before, finishing runners-up to Sweden in the inaugural Women’s Euros in 1984 before getting to the final again in 2009 only to lose to Germany in Finland.

Since Wiegman became manager in September 2021, England are unbeaten in 13 matches and in February won the inaugural Arnold Clark Cup – a competition that featured Olympic champions Canada, Spain and two-time world champions Germany.

Arsenal’s Leah Williamson will captain the Lionesses.

“This is going to be the biggest women’s event in Europe ever,” Wiegman told BBC Sport.

“It’s going to be really exciting but it can also cause a little stress. There are going to be expectations but we have to embrace it.

“This is a chance to make everyone proud.”

Euro 2022 marks a huge moment in the history of women’s football in Northern Ireland. The national team only reformed in 2004 after being disbanded at the turn of the century.

Whatever happens this month, Northern Ireland have already defied the odds to reach one of the biggest stages in the sport as a team largely made up of part-time players.

In preparation for Euro 2022, 22 domestic-based players entered a seven-month full-time professional programme.

Kenny Shiels’ side are the lowest-ranked team in the competition – 47th in the world.

His remarks drew criticism and Shiels apologised saying: “I am proud to manage a group of players who are role models for so many girls, and boys, across the country.”

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