England’s roaring Lionesses are primed for their pressure cooker Euro 2022 opener against Austria, as captain Leah Williamson insists they ‘intend to use sold-out crowds’ to spur them on
- England will kickstart their Euro 2022 campaign against Austria at Old Trafford
- The Lionesses, unbeaten under Sarina Wiegman, will hope to lay down a marker
- Leah Williamson insists the team are ready and says they will lean on big crowds
England manager Sarina Wiegman and captain Leah Williamson insisted they are ready for the pressure ahead of their opening game at the European Championship.
The Lionesses take on Austria in front of a record, sold-out 74,000 crowd at Old Trafford on Wednesday evening, with the hope that they can lay down a marker for the rest of the tournament.
They are unbeaten since Wiegman took over in September, with 12 wins from 14 games and 84 goals scored, and warmed up for this tournament with a 3-0 win over Belgium, a 5-1 thrashing of the Netherlands and a 4-0 thumping over Switzerland.
England insist they are ready to deal with pressure at the 2022 European Championships
Sarina Wiegman is yet to taste defeat in charge, and her task is to deliver glory on home turf
Wiegman led the Dutch to victory on home turf in 2017 and, five years on, her task is to repeat that feat with England.
‘It’s really incredible, it’s really exciting,’ said Wiegman. ‘You can feel that everyone is really ready, we just want to go.
‘Everything is bigger, the expectation is higher and the level of the game is higher. It’s hard to compare (to 2017) but the players are more experienced.
‘I want to share experiences with the players but in this group we also have players that have experienced many great games at the highest level.
Lionesses captain Leah Williamson says the team will lean on the support from large crowds
‘The game has developed so quickly that many countries are favourites for this tournament, because the level is so high. It’s really hard to predict. Lots of countries are in a good position, so are we. But in tournaments, strange things can happen.’
Williamson played just six minutes at the 2019 World Cup but, at the tender age of 25, she has the responsibility of leading her country out at a home tournament. It is a task she feels more than ready for.
‘I’m very proud, I am sure tomorrow when I look back, it will be a moment I’ll remember for ever,’ she said.
‘The team is in a great place fitness-wise and with all of those things within your control.
England will kick-start the tournament against Austria, as they bid to lay down their marker
‘We’re not robots, there’s going to be nerves, we’re aware of the expectation but from within the camp it’s all about excitement. This is my job, if I wasn’t ready for it, if I wasn’t allowed to enjoy it, why would I do it?
‘We’ve ticked the boxes that we needed to tick, knowing how big a moment this is.
‘We know what to expect and we’re ready for it. Pressure is a privilege, it’s something that we’re embracing. That’s part of the job but it doesn’t mean we won’t enjoy it at the same time. Sarina has experience of (pressure) and that’s something she wants us to embrace.
‘It’s something we’ve not been that good at in the past. We’re loving the fact that there will be a full stadium and most of them will be there for us. It’s an advantage, we intend to use it.’
Williamson insists being in the public eye for the showpiece is ‘normal’, describing it as ‘good’
An image of Williamson was projected on to Tower Bridge in London on Monday and she has also been the face of crisp packets and drink bottles.
‘It’s not normal, is it?’ Williamson acknowledged. ‘But it’s good, it means that the visibility of us as a team and the women’s game is being recognised, as it should be. It’s strange but it’s a good thing for the game.’
England are expected to beat Austria but their opponents are no pushovers, having reached the semi-finals of this tournament five years ago.
Just one goal separated the two sides when they faced off in World Cup qualifying in November, with the Lionesses coming out on top, and Wiegman is expecting a similarly tough game on Wednesday night.
Wiegman has been handed a selection dilemma over the position of her skipper for the opener
‘Austria are a very strong team,’ said Wiegman. ‘Their togetherness is really good, they are tough, good physically and they were very well-organised when we played them in November and they still are. We looked at the games they’ve played recently.
‘We just prepare as good as possible, we’re focused on our own style and how we can use our strengths. If we play our best game, we will be on the ball more and dominate the game more.’
The biggest selection headache for Wiegman concerns the position of her captain and whether she will start in defence, as she does for Arsenal, or in the centre of midfield.
‘Playing for England is enough,’ insisted Williamson. ‘I’d like to be on the pitch, I’ll do whatever I have to do for the team.’
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