It was an unforgettable year for the Lionesses.
To become European champions at homequalifying for the 2023 World Cup with a 100% record, beating world number one at Wembley and remaining unbeaten for a full year.
“You can’t beat that, you can only match that,” England coach Sarina Wiegman said as she reflected on a memorable spell.
England’s success coincided with the arrival of Wiegman and they are unbeaten after 26 games under the Dutchman since her appointment in September 2021.
They have already broken records, created history and possibly changed the women’s game forever.
So what happens next as they prepare for a World Cup in 2023?
“Of course we want to break all records, but breaking records does not mean [give you what you need]. We always bring it back to what we need to act on,” added Wiegman.
“How can we stay together as a team? I really believe that’s where it starts. The players feel very comfortable with this approach.
“At the moment it’s working really well and they feel really comfortable. You can see that because we’re having fun – and winning helps.”
“In six weeks, they became famous”
Few could have imagined that 2022 is going so well for the Lionesses. Wiegman took over after England won only four of 14 matches and the Great Britain team lost in the quarter-finals of the Olympics.
July’s win at Euro 2022 was easily the highlight of the year and Wiegman revealed the players gave away their match shirts to staff members to keep as souvenirs.
“I still have my navy blue suit but it’s not a collector’s item – I’m not very sensitive to those things. Of course it will be etched in my memory forever,” she said.
“I think if I had worn a shirt as a player I would absolutely keep it. Beth Mead gave me her shirt so I’m really happy to have one. It’s a really good gift for us. “
The final was watched by 87,192 people at Wembley – a record for a Euros match in either men’s or women’s football.
The late Queen Elizabeth II then paid tribute to the Lionesses and thousands gathered in Trafalgar Square the following morning to celebrate.
The faces of the Lionesses appeared on the front and back pages of every national newspaper, while murals were painted across the country in various cities.
Players’ lives have changed – so how does Wiegman deal with that as they prepare to continue their unbeaten run and win the World Cup next summer when it comes to Australia and New Zealand?
“There is pressure, we know that,” she added. “We know that when you win the pressure will be higher and higher – that’s how it works. The concern is that the lives of the players have changed a bit.
“Some players have already really adapted to the situation, some players need a bit of support. There are a lot of things outside of football that are football-related and are being asked of players now.
“It’s finding the balance and not getting overwhelmed. It takes time. Some players are really young. In six weeks they’ve become famous Englishmen. Everyone wants something from them.
“Your brain has to get used to your new life. It brings a lot of good things but also sacrifices. Some players can no longer walk down the street without being [mobbed by fans].”
“We need to take our game to the next level”
After a perfect 2022, England’s task will undoubtedly become more complicated next year.
There are more expectations, more pressure and greater competition – back-to-back world champions USA and Olympic champions Canada are among those to compete at the World Cup.
Having not yet lost a match under Wiegman and, after beat the united states at Wembley in October, is there still room for improvement?
“Yeah absolutely, I think we need to improve. The game is developing so quickly,” Wiegman said.
“Next year [at the World Cup]due to the number of countries joining the group stage, i think the start will be a bit different [to Euro 2022].
“When you go through the tournament, the level will be so high. Different styles of play, different coaches – which is exciting and challenging.
“But we need to take our game to the next level to have the best chance of success.
“There are more things we want to do to be more unpredictable and add to our game. I’m not going to share everything!”