|Date: Tuesday, 26 July Kick-off: 20:00 BST Venue: Bramall Lane, Sheffield|
|Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC iPlayer and the BBC Sport website|
England are preparing for a fourth successive semi-final at a women’s major tournament – but this time it feels different, with a sense of optimism around Sarina Wiegman’s side.
For the Lionesses, the past three semi-finals have ended in defeat; World Cup losses to Japan in 2015 and the United States in 2019, either side of a Euro 2017 elimination at the hands of a Netherlands side then coached by Wiegman.
The image is still raw of Laura Bassett in tears after her stoppage-time own goal gave Japan victory seven years ago.
A heavy semi-final defeat by the Netherlands in 2017 came as a shock. Two years later, Alex Morgan’s tea drinking goal celebration left England bruised, after captain Steph Houghton’s penalty miss had proved costly in a 2-1 defeat by the USA.
It is 56 years of hurt for England in major tournaments – the men’s success at the World Cup in 1966 the only moment of glory in a history of heartbreak.
However, as the Lionesses prepare to take on Sweden in Tuesday’s last-four tie, there is a genuine belief that this team could be the one to end the wait.
It does not take much for England supporters to start singing that ‘football’s coming home’ but when the Lionesses thrashed a strong Norway side 8-0 in the group stages – setting a new tournament record – and followed it up with a dramatic extra-time comeback win over pre-tournament favourites Spain in the quarter-finals, many actually believed the lyrics to Three Lions.
The usual English pessimism seems to have been replaced by a confidence in a squad with all the ingredients to reach the next level.
You have to go back to 2009 for the last time England’s women reached a major tournament final but with Wembley greeting the winner of Tuesday’s showdown, the story is there to be written.
Manager Wiegman, who defied the odds to guide the Netherlands to glory on home soil five years ago, has already shown her pedigree at Euro 2022 with England.
She is cool, calm, collected and pragmatic. So far, she has not put a foot wrong.
It is 15 months since England last lost a game, including a run of 18 matches unbeaten under Wiegman, and everything has been carefully planned to achieve success.
The inaugural Arnold Clark Cup tournament was launched in February after Wiegman had pushed for more challenging opposition to get England ready.
They rehearsed playing on home soil in front of large crowds and passed the test, winning a tournament featuring Spain, Germany and Canada.
It was not the trophy they ultimately want but the rare sight of England lifting silverware felt good.
By the time they came to play their Euro opener at Old Trafford in front of almost 70,000 supporters, they had built a relationship with fans who had enjoyed February’s experience and wanted more of it.
They led 1-0 for 74 minutes and it would have been easy to doubt England’s ability to hold on against a stubborn Austria side who themselves would go on to reach the quarter-finals – but this team always seem to find a way.
They showed that against Spain in the quarter-final, when substitutes Ella Toone and Alessia Russo combined to equalise, before Georgia Stanway fired in a superb winner in extra time as they won 2-1.
With her team trailing 1-0, Wiegman took off the England women’s team’s record scorer, Ellen White, and the tournament’s top scorer, Beth Mead, brought on two players with fewer than 30 England caps between them and pushed centre-back Millie Bright up front. It was the sort of move that might have raised eyebrows.
But Wiegman’s plans work. And even when things have not gone to plan, fortune has favoured England.
When the manager tested positive for Covid-19 and was out of action for five days, she only missed one game and that was a dead rubber against Northern Ireland with England having already qualified for the knockout stages as group winners.
So far, there have been no major injuries either, while other nations have lost key players – Spain’s Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas was ruled out on the eve of the tournament, Northern Ireland’s Simone Magill suffered a serious knee injury and Netherlands forward Lieke Martens suffered a foot problem.
So often at major tournaments, the question has been: ‘When will England crumble under the pressure?’ But the Lionesses do not seem fazed, mirroring the calmness their manager has instilled.
In 2021, the men reached a first major tournament final in 55 years – and the feeling of finally overcoming a monumental hurdle was tangible at St George’s Park.
Now the women will aim to do likewise – and want to go one better this year by winning the Euros.
Of course England’s semi-final with Sweden could end in defeat. The wait for a major trophy could extend to another year.
But in Wiegman, Lionesses fans have a manager they trust and there is no doubt this time there is a belief they are capable of winning.