Lionesses defeated a whole country, and now England can believe it is returning

 England's World Cup final is a spectacle that three in every four people in the country have never had the privilege to witness. The class of 2023 has written themselves indelibly into folklore, and immortality could yet await. The glory is no longer steeped in sepia but belongs, thrillingly, to the present day, thanks to Sarina Wiegman and her team of dauntless trailblazers. The feat of reaching any major final can scarcely be overstated. England's men have achieved it just twice in their history, both on home soil. Now the Lionesses have advanced to two in 13 months.

Unlike at Wembley last summer, there was no home-field advantage to help against Australia. England were walking into a Sydney cauldron, faced with 75,000 fans who had veritably lost their minds over the march of the Matildas. The Daily Tillygraph was how Sydney’s Daily Telegraph renamed itself, having already revelled in sending up a helicopter to spy on an England training session. Brisbane’s Courier-Mail became the Kerr-ier Mail, in honour of Sam Kerr, the Chelsea striker whose stunning second-half strike thundered straight into the World Cup canon. But even amid the swirl of green-and-gold, England kept their nerve. “We stuck to the plan, and it worked,” Wiegman said. “Again.” She is the mastermind not only of seizing the greatest trophies but of learning how to repeat the pattern. After leading Holland to the rarefied air of two finals, she has now become the first coach in the sport to advance to a World Cup final with two different countries. It is an achievement deserving of the sincerest respect.

The Lionesses are demolishing barriers in a manner with which English football is not familiar. They could so easily have quailed when confronted by the host country’s ecstatic Kerr love-in. Instead, they prevailed without a scintilla of self-doubt. No sooner had Kerr equalised than Hemp restored the lead. And with Kerr still agonising over a golden chance for 2-2, Russo stole in for England’s third. These hallmarks of resilience are ones that English national sides have spent decades trying to perfect. Now, under the stoic captaincy of Millie Bright, they have.

There is an old truism in sport that the more you keep hammering on the door, the likelier it is that it will open in the end. The Lionesses are living proof: after the agonies of 2015 and 2019, where they succumbed in semi-finals against Japan and the United States, they have exuded in Australia the air of a team who know how to haul themselves over the line. Emboldened by their European Championship triumph last year, they knew that anything less than another final appearance risked being portrayed as a retrograde step. They did not let the danger detain them for a second, sweeping past Australia as if it were a fate divinely decreed.

Once all the mayhem subsides, they will know that there is still a Rubicon to cross. The reason that 1966 is so seared on the collective consciousness is not because England made it to the final, but because they won sport’s ultimate prize. It is a message that Wiegman will be at pains to impart. Unlike her players, she knows what it is like to be in a World Cup final, having gone there four years ago with the Netherlands. That match, against the United States, remains the only major tournament clash she has lost. It was the rarest experience of pain, but it is one she is desperate to expunge.

What is so gratifying about the wave England are riding is that they never seem to dwell on the past, instead always looking for fresh lands to conquer. There was the possibility that the joy of beating Germany at Wembley could have been a full stop. But it turned out to be a mere punctuation mark in their quest to create a dynasty. Once, the US were insuperable, winning two World Cups in the 1990s and another two in the 2010s. England do not have the same pedigree on which to draw, but they radiate the conviction of a team conscious that this is their time. First stop Europe, next stop the world.


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