So, the Women's Euro 2022 ended with England crowned as champions over Germany following a gripping final at Wembley on Sunday. And now it's time to reflect on the tournament as a whole with our Best XIs, then compare and contrast with the XIs we were most excited about heading into the competition.
ESPN's Kathleen McNamee, Sophie Lawson, Julien Laurens and Tom Hamilton have bravely chosen to reflect upon their pre-tournament choices and revise accordingly given how the results played out. (If you need a reminder of their early picks, look here.)
Which players lived up to expectations and who fell short? Which stars surprised us from nowhere to burst into Best XI consideration?
Kathleen McNamee: Oberdorf stars, as do England
(4-3-3): Daphne van Domselaar (Netherlands); Sakina Karchaoui (France), Mapi Leon (Spain), Millie Bright (England), Lucy Bronze (England); Keira Walsh (England), Lena Oberdorf (Germany), Lina Magull (Germany); Beth Mead (England), Alex Popp (Germany), Alessia Russo (England).
When I did my pre-tournament XI, I wrote that I would likely be eating my words after the tournament, and here I am doing exactly that with just two players retaining their places. In fairness, some are down to injuries, but others are purely for standout performances.
Few people knew Daphne van Domselaar's name before the tournament, with the 22-year-old goalkeeper having just one national team cap before this summer. An injury to the prolific Sari van Veenendaal in the first game threw her into the spotlight, and she reacted with the confidence of someone much older. She wasn't the only young player who announced herself on the big stage either, with Alessia Russo also pulling off some outrageous goals and competing with her England teammate Beth Mead for top scorer in the squad despite coming off the bench every game.
Mead may have won Player of the Tournament, but I think there was a strong argument to be made that Keira Walsh deserved that title. The defensive midfielder was the lynchpin to every move England made and carefully distributed some of the best passes of the tournament to help set up the attack. Largely underappreciated, she deserves a lot of plaudits. Lucy Bronze also provided a key angle in England's forward play and spent a lot of the tournament driving up the right and supplying Mead.
While Lauren Hemp was tipped to have a great Euros and didn't quite live up to it, Lena Oberdorf took the hype around her before the competition started and fully delivered on that promise. It was hard to see her so upset as she received the Young Player of the Tournament award after the final, but she should get several more opportunities for silverware.
With it being Alex Popp's first European Championships, it was hard to know what to expect from her, but the Germany captain was a beacon for her side -- she scored 46% of their goals -- and they really struggled with not having her in the final. Her physicality meant she could out-muscle most defences to get on the end of crosses, but her movement and leadership on the pitch were also phenomenal. It was a joy to watch her play, and such a cruel end to her Euro 2022 experience.
Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens discuss the growth of women's football after a hugely successful Euro 2022 tournament.
Sophie Lawson: Surprises galore as Scandinavian sides fall short
(4-3-3) Daphne van Domselaar (Netherlands); Giulia Gwinn (Germany), Leah Williamson (England), Marina Hegering (Germany), Verena Hanshaw (Austria); Lena Oberdorf (Germany), Aitana Bonmati (Spain), Grace Geyoro (France); Kadidiatou Diani (France), Alex Popp (Germany), Beth Mead (England)
And that is why you never predict the Best XI before the start of the tournament; frankly, yikes. The Scandinavians were hugely disappointing this summer and I should not have hung my hat on them pre-tournament, but c'est la vie.
There are certainly some 50/50 choices in here, but going with my gut, it's got to be tournament breakout, Van Domselaar in goal, for a start. The 22-year-old was fantastic this summer, coming up with some big time stops as well as taking care of all the basics without panicking.
The backline is rather straightforward -- two defensive rocks in the middle, plus two players who exemplify modern full-back play -- but liberties have been taken in midfield to fit three central players. Aside from her goals, France's Grace Geyoro really demonstrated how far she's come in the last season or two as a rounded midfielder, and she more than earned her place in my Best XI. Next to her, Aitana Bonmati ran the show for Spain from the heart of midfield and with Oberdorf, you've got two of the most intelligent players at the Euros -- even if I did 10 versions of a Best XI, they are the two who would be omnipresent.
The attack is a little obvious: Mead and Popp scored 12 goals between them, rather dwarfing most of the other attackers at the Euros even if they're worth extra plaudits. (Hello, England's super subs!) France's Kadidiatou Diani, with her silky first touches and ability to tie defenders in knots, rounds out both the attack and the team.
Julien Laurens: Popp by far the best up front
(4-2-3-1): Mary Earps (England); Lucy Bronze (England), Mapi Leon (Spain), Leah Williamson (England), Sakina Karchaoui (France); Lena Oberdorf (Germany), Keira Walsh (England); Kadidiatou Diani (France), Beth Mead (England), Kosovare Asllani (Sweden); Alexandra Popp (Germany)
My pre-tournament XI was pretty good. It was just unlucky that Marie-Antoinette Katoto got injured 15 minutes into France's second game; that Netherlands star Vivianne Miedema tested positive for COVID-19; that Caroline Graham Hansen was anonymous like her team, Norway; that Sandra Panos' campaign with Spain ended in the quarterfinals; that France's Wendie Renard, despite being taller than almost anybody else ay 6-foot-2, cannot score a header; that Sara Dabritz was not decisive enough for Germany; and that Manuela Giugliano, like Italy, never got going...
For the rest, I was spot on!
More seriously, what a Euros this was, and what a post-tournament XI this is. The best of the best. In goal, Mary Earps showed great qualities on her line and displayed lots of leadership, while Leah Williamson was just amazing for England at centre-back, and I was impressed by Mapi Leon for Spain too. Bronze and Sakina Karchaoui were the two best full-backs of the tournament.
In midfield, Oberdorf is only 20, but she showed that she's already one of the best in the world even if she is sometimes too aggressive. Next to her, and for me the player of the tournament, is Walsh. She bossed every game, producing masterclass after masterclass until her magnificent through-ball for England's first goal in the final. Without her, I don't think England would have become European champions.
Ahead of them, I have Diani on the right side. The France winger showed she belongs with the best; her pace and skills are something else. Behind the striker, I picked Mead, of course. She was the Golden Boot winner with six goals, including a hat-trick against Norway, and was rightfully voted player of the tournament too. She is such a great finisher. On the left, I went with Kosovare Asllani who was the only one to actually make things happen with the ball for Sweden with a goal and three assists in five matches. Technically, she was a joy to watch.
Finally, up front is Popp, one of the stories of this 2022 Euros. She started the tournament as a sub and scored in every single game she played. After missing the last two Euros through injury, she had a chance, at 31, to bring the trophy back to Germany. Alas, getting injured before the final was another huge blow to her and to her country. However, she was still by far the best striker in Europe this month.
Tom Hamilton: Praise for Van Domselaar
(4-3-3): Daphne van Domselaar (Netherlands); Lucy Bronze (England), Marina Hegering (Germany), Millie Bright (England), Sakina Karchaoui (France); Lena Oberdorf (Germany), Keira Walsh (England), Kosovare Asllani (Sweden); Alessia Russo (England), Alex Popp (Germany), Beth Mead (England)
Picking a Barcelona (and Spain) core originally meant some similar issues to Jules, but the final Best XI had several contenders for each spot.
Earps just misses out in goal to Netherlands' Van Domselaar. Earps has been pretty much faultless in these Euros, but the Dutch keeper had a truly exceptional four matches. In defence I've gone for Millie Bright alongside Marina Hegering at centre-back, with France's Karchaoui on the left, and England's Bronze on the right. But you could've easily had another back four of Sophia Kleinherne, Williamson, Mapi Leon and Giulia Gwinn.
In midfield, the double pivot of Walsh and Oberdorf just edges out the other contenders like Georgia Stanway, Bonmati and Geyoro. Russo, Mead, Asllani and Popp are the forwards with Svenja Huth and Mariona Caldentey both unlucky. As for my super-sub -- well that has to be Ella Toone. England's Sarina Wiegman will, of course, manage this team.
The official Euro 2022 team of the tournament
On Tuesday, UEFA's Technical Observer Panel released their own team of the competition, which we've included below. Despite not winning the tournament, Germany did place five players in the official Best XI:
4-3-3: Mary Earps (England); Giulia Gwinn (Germany), Leah Williamson (England), Marina Hegering (Germany), Sakina Karchaoui (France); Keira Walsh (England), Lena Oberdorf (Germany), Aitana Bonmati (Spain); Beth Mead (England), Alex Popp (Germany), Klara Buhl (Germany)