We're almost at the end of the Women's Euros 2022, and what a pair of games we have this week in the semifinals: Host nation England will do battle with the No. 2 team in the world, Sweden, while Germany and France square off on Wednesday in what has been a historically feisty affair.
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- Every Euros game LIVE on ESPN: Navigate the schedule
- Laurens: Rejoice! We have the perfect Euros semifinalists
Who will advance to Sunday's final at Wembley? Which players will be instrumental in that progress? And who are we picking to go through? Here's what you need to know to get ready for Tuesday's and Wednesday's semifinals.
England stormed through the group stages, winning all three of their matches without conceding a goal. It started with a tough task against Austria, where Beth Mead's goal saw them through 1-0, but they then swiped aside Norway 8-0 and Northern Ireland 5-0. The quarterfinal saw them faced with a diligent, well-organised Spain side, and they needed an 84th-minute equaliser from Ella Toone to force extra time. From there, Georgia Stanway's superb effort from distance was enough to give them a 2-1 victory.
Sweden opened with a 1-1 draw with the Netherlands and then secured their spot at the top of Group C with a 2-1 win over Switzerland and a 5-0 triumph over Portugal. Despite the COVID-19 issues within the camp as five players tested positive, they managed to get past Belgium 1-0 to secure their spot in the semifinals. Sweden dominated the game and had 33 shots to Belgium's three, but a remarkable performance from goalkeeper Nicky Evrard kept Sweden at bay until they finally got the breakthrough in the 92nd minute through Linda Sembrant.
Why England will win/lose: For all the blockbuster brilliance of the group stage, their win over Spain showed that they're able to work their way through a tricky spell. That quarterfinal could have slipped away from them once Spain took the lead against the run of play, but the spine of the team stayed strong and the impact of players off the bench saw them through. That was by far the biggest test of Sarina Wiegman's tenure to date, but England were smart in how they unpicked Spain and broke them down.
Their strength in depth is unrivalled at the Euros, with the likes of Chloe Kelly, Alessia Russo and Toone instrumental to this team's success. But they have this core of superb players who mould together: Millie Bright, Leah Williamson, Keira Walsh, Stanway and Fran Kirby work wonderfully as a group and can shore up the middle of the pitch to allow the likes of Mead and Lauren Hemp to thrive.
What may yet be England's undoing has so far been a strength: consistency. Wiegman has named the same XI in all four matches to date, and against Spain, it took them a little while to get going. While they showed their Plan B in that quarterfinal, other teams will be figuring out exactly what makes England tick and how to slow them down. While they've been great in dealing with crosses once they land in the 6-yard box -- Bright especially -- they have to be better at shutting those opportunities down at the source, and as Spain showed, if you get in behind England, you can hurt them.
Why Sweden will win/lose: Sweden are the No. 2-ranked side in the world for a reason, and on their day, they can swipe anybody aside. The Olympics were only last year, and their run to the final included a 3-0 win over the USWNT. Although they ultimately lost the final on penalties to Canada, they showcased their champions' mindset and ability to reach the latter stages of major tournaments without blinking.
Their attackers Stina Blackstenius, Fridolina Rolfo and Johanna Rytting Kaneryd took time to tick into gear against Belgium, but surely they won't go another game where they will be so profligate, which is a testament to the attacking mindset that manager Peter Gerhardsson has brought to the group. There's also the additional dynamic of the emotional significance of this tournament, with Caroline Seger (37), Sembrant (35) and Hedvig Lindahl (39) in the twilight of their careers.
This will by far be Sweden's sternest test at the Euros. They had to deal with a COVID-19 outbreak, but only they know its true impact. And then there's the factor of playing England on their own turf. Though there will be some Sweden support in the crowd at Sheffield United's Bramall Lane, the hype and excitement around the hosts will only grow, and as England have proved so far this tournament, they're using that pressure to go up another gear rather than stall out.
Key player for England: Last time out I went for Stanway, who had a brilliant game, while Walsh has arguably been England's player of the tournament so far, but this match will be a test of how they can respond to Sweden's threat down the left in Rolfo, as well as her link-up play with Kosovare Asllani and striker Blackstenius. So it's going to be on Walsh to help shut that down and Mead to track back, but central to the disruption will be Lucy Bronze.
She is a world-class defender and has had a solid tournament, but at times she looked frustrated against Spain. There were moments when she was boxed in and was looking for options, but in the end had to concede possession. While some celebrated the win at full time, Bronze stayed away from the party, instead talking to some of her future Barcelona teammates and taking in the moment. She knows the job is far from done.
Key player for Sweden: Blackstenius is such a threat up front, but if they're going to knock England out of the competition, they need to be defensively sound. They've conceded just twice in the tournament, and kept Belgium to speculative efforts, which has been working, but Magda Eriksson will be key to this semifinal. The Chelsea defender will know the attacking quartet of Ellen White, Hemp, Mead and her club teammate Kirby better than anyone, and she'll need all of that nous to help get her team set up and nullify the tournament's most lethal side.
Prediction: There will be some nervy moments, but England will come through this with a 2-1 win. Expect a tense first half and the game to open up in the second 45 with (as usual) England's starting team doing the hard graft, and the bench to close the game out. Sweden will offer the sternest test yet to England's defence, but in front of a sold-out crowd, England will book their spot in the final and cause bedlam up and down the country in the process. -- Hamilton
Having dominated their respective groups, it wasn't a walk in the park for either Germany or France in reaching the last four. Having been able to control their three group games, Germany suddenly looked short on ideas against Austria. An early overload in the Austrian box brought about the first goal of the night, Klara Buhl's pullback dummied by Alex Popp for Lina Magull to strike low, a perfect finish after they'd carved apart the reliable Austrian defence.
Even with the advantage, Germany couldn't relax into the game and weren't able to close out the game until the last minute of regular time, when Popp closed down a Manuela Zinsberger goal kick and deflected it into the net.
Going one better (or worse) than Germany, France needed extra time against the Netherlands in the last of the four quarterfinals. Despite dominating almost every metric, France could not find a way to beat Dutch goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar in Rotherham, with a string of strong saves from the young goal-stopper and France's own less-than-clinical finishing enough to push the game to extra time. A penalty in the first half of the additional 30 was enough for the French to finally get their goal thanks to Eve Périsset's clinical spot-kick.
Why Germany will win/lose: The team to beat in the group stage, Germany were given quite the scare against Austria, and had it not been for a firm dose of luck, they may very well have gone home early. However, such scares can be galvanising and should serve as a wake-up call going into their semifinal. Far more ruthless in attack than the French, Germany have shown a great virtuosity in the final third, so even if they see less of the ball than their opposition, they should be able to capitalise.
That quarterfinal will have given France some ideas; gone was the composed side from the group stage, seemingly replaced by a squad struggling to deal with the pressure. The match served to highlight the frailties the former champions have had in knockout rounds in recent years, and if their narrow escape vs. Austria lingers too long in their minds, they could very well struggle to find their best football with the pressure still on.
Why France will win/lose: With all the background noise coming into the tournament, France have managed to block out any potential drama and instead come together as a team, playing some of their best football as one cohesive group and buying into Corinne Diacre's emphasis on the collective. In previous years, when they've come up against a stubborn goalkeeper in the quarters, they may very well have folded, but against the Netherlands, the French stuck to their task, attacking until the last minute even after having taken the lead. That persistence paid off and showed their mental toughness for navigating knockout football.
Over 120 minutes in Rotherham, France had 33 total shots but just one goal. Not only will the German midfield and defence not allow them the same luxury in the semifinal, France will once again be coming up against one of the best goalkeepers at the tournament in Merle Frohms and will require better finishing to beat the German No. 1. Most of the squad are in uncharted territory, France's last major tournament semifinal appearance coming a decade ago at the London Olympics, and there are clear question marks around how the team will deal with the added pressure that comes with a last-four appearance.
Key player for Germany: For Germany, who've looked oh so good going forward, it would be easy to say one of their attackers will be the one to shine in Milton Keynes, not least with Popp having scored in each of her four Euros outings. Yet so much of Germany's better play had started in the midfield, with the spine of the team flexing to help progress the ball to the attackers as well as providing extra cover for the back-line against dominant opposition.
With that in mind, Magull is primed to be the key player for Germany yet again this tournament, as her ability to feed the ball through to her teammates is one of the key strengths of their attack. Operating in a resolute midfield with Lena Oberdorf, Magull will likely be tasked to help her teammates stop the ball from being allowed to get anywhere near Frohms' goal and will happily drop back to help the cause before springing a counter or making a late dash into the box to bolster Germany's numbers around goal.
Key player for France: One of France's standout players this tournament, Kadidiatou Diani had shown her individual brilliance in a team that relies on a collective effort, at the heart of France's better attacking moves all summer. Not just an attacker with a swift turn of pace, but one with a sublime first touch and delicate footwork to get around her marker, the PSG winger has a tangible impact on France's xG once she's got the ball on her toe.
Although Diani has yet to register an assist at the Euros, her work to set up her teammates has been invaluable. If France are to reach the final, you can expect Diani to be a key part of that effort.
Prediction: After their superb first half against Italy, France have softly cooled down, managing a narrow win in their second game, a draw in their third and then needing extra time to get past the quarters. In short, this is not a happy trajectory for anyone around Les Bleues. I'm expecting Germany's experience to be the decisive factor in a 3-1 win, although the team will need to dig back into the confidence they displayed in their group games. On paper, Germany certainly look stronger and more clinical. -- Lawson