Sarina Wiegman believes England have grown in confidence and become more resilient since she took over as manager and expects them to be able to handle the big occasion when they face Sweden for a place in the final of Euro 2022 on Tuesday night.
The Lionesses will go into the match at Bramall Lane on a high after their dramatic comeback against Spain in the quarter-finals despite having failed to get past the last four at three successive tournaments. Wiegman, who led the Netherlands to victory at Euro 2017 before taking over from Phil Neville in September last year, has backed her players against Sweden having remained unbeaten since a friendly defeat against Canada last April.
“I think the mentality has been good. I have seen only a good mentality, actually, since I came in last September,” she said. “The resilience has been really good. The confidence in the team has grown and that has also grown over the past year. We’re just really, really accountable to each other.
“We had a little setback, of course that’s part of the game too, when we conceded a goal [against Spain]. But we stayed calm, we stayed trying to play our game. I think we’re really strong and we can handle setbacks.”
Asked whether the Lionesses were ready to make history, the Dutch manager said: “The England team is ready to play the best game tomorrow against Sweden,” before adding with a grin, “and hopefully we will inspire the nation.”
It was playful from the manager, who also said she hoped she would be “a little calmer” on the sidelines following her wild celebrations against Spain. Wiegman, who said she has a fully fit squad, has put a lot of effort into lifting the pressure off the shoulders of her players.
“I’m in the now, thinking in the now,” she said, when asked how much Sweden have changed since England lost to them in the third place playoff at the 2019 World Cup.
“We are England, Sweden is our opponent. Tomorrow they have a very strong squad. So do we. And we just hope we will play our style of game and that will bring us the win.
“I think it’s going to be a very tight game. We know they’ve performed really well in recent years – they’ve always performed well in the women’s game. They are the No 2 in the Fifa rankings. So, it’s going to be a totally different game, very different to Spain because they have a different style of play, but we have prepared.”
England do not have the best record against Sweden with just one win and one draw in six Euro games. Wiegman’s record is more impressive, with the Netherlands manager having knocked Sweden out at the quarter-final stage of the Euros in 2017 before beating them again in their 2019 World Cup semi-final. “It’s a different situation,” Wiegman said. “That doesn’t count. It’s tomorrow and only tomorrow.”
If Wiegman is looking only ahead, so are her players. The centre-back Millie Bright was quick to deflect away from England’s three consecutive semi-final exits from major tournaments. “Those are parked to one side,” she said.
“It’s hard to compare, each semi‑final is different for their own reasons. We’ve got new players in the squad and we’re on a new journey. Everyone’s just for the here and the now, focused on the game, and everyone is in great spirits. We just want to keep building our confidence and performing for the fans.
“The past is the past, so all eyes forward. We remain in our own little bubble. Everybody says the pressure is on us but we stay focused on what we need to do to stay in the games.
“Every time I pull on the England shirt I feel at home. I don’t want to erase any memories in football, you just learn from the past. It’s really nice to be back in my home town and I’m looking forward to seeing the fans in the crowd.”
Her defensive teammate Lucy Bronze said Sweden still pose a big threat despite not being at their best in the Euros. “I think the majority of the players watched the quarter‑final game [against Belgium], we’ve watched as many games as we can throughout the tournament anyway,” she said.
“Sweden probably haven’t looked their strongest but we all know that they’re the highest-ranked team coming into the tournament. It’s a team that we’ve come up against a lot in tournaments and I think anything can happen on the day. They probably didn’t play at their best against Belgium but they just showed what winning teams do and that’s find a way to win, find a way to score a goal and to get through.
“We know to expect everything. We’re expecting to have Sweden come out all guns blazing and have their best performance against us because they’ve got just as much to play for as we do.”