The 2022 Women’s European Championship in England (LIVE July 6-31: Across ESPN networks in the U.S.) is nearly upon us and there is a building sense of curiosity and excitement to see how Europe’s top sides perform. Who will disappoint? Who will win the Golden Boot? Can England really overcome the pressure they are under as hosts?
To get you prepared for the tournament, here is a selection of some of the best players you should look out for and the teams who are likely to go all the way. We make some bold predictions about what might unfold throughout July and tell you which group games you simply have to watch. This is ESPN’s megapreview to Euro 2022.
Six players you need to know
There’s something about the 21-year-old Hemp that exudes maturity and experience beyond her years. With the ball at her feet, she is one of the best wingers in the world, and it feels like she has been around for more than five seasons in the Women’s Super League (WSL). Last season, she scored 20 goals in 36 games for Manchester City and added 10 assists for good measure.
Many think Hemp is just getting started, which is an exciting prospect for England. She is already vital to Sarina Wiegman’s setup, providing pizazz to the England attack. Her speed and dribbling skill are her bread and butter, and when Hemp has the ball you know she is going to make something happen.
Also a talented cricketer, Hemp isn’t letting the hype around her go to her head, She said: “For me, I’m my biggest critic. I put so much pressure on myself that I don’t really feel it from the outside. But I sometimes look back and realise how far I’ve come and that I’m still so young and think I should not put as much pressure on myself as I do. It’s finding that balance in making sure I do perform at my best but that I do enjoy the journey as well, because I think when I enjoy it you get the best out of me.”
It’s been a big year for Blackstenius and a good Euros performance from her would go a long way to sealing her stardom. She moved from Hacken to Arsenal in January and immediately slotted into Jonas Eidevall’s side. It is hard to imagine Vivianne Miedema — the WSL’s all-time top scorer — playing any better than she already does, but the partnership developing between her and Blackstenius is one to watch. Fans have even gone as far as giving them a nickname: Vivstenius.
With Sweden and Netherlands in the same group, however, there won’t be time for any friendly banter between the two. What is noticeable about Blackstenius in recent years is that she has become more confident and grown into the important role she plays for Sweden. It is even something she has talked about herself, saying on Hedvig Lindahl’s podcast: “I don’t think I am shy today and that is a very nice feeling. In the end I wasn’t comfortable being the cautious person that I was and I envied the people who found it easy to be more outgoing.”
Blackstenius played a key role in Sweden’s silver-medal-winning campaigns at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, including a great goal against the United States in the latter. The timing of her runs and the precision of her passes will be key for Peter Gerhardsson’s side as they try to win the tournament for the first time since 1984.
The decision of Corinne Diacre to leave Katoto out of the France squad for the 2019 World Cup still has people scratching their heads. In 2018-19, she was Division One Feminine’s top scorer with 22 goals and had scored 30 times in 29 games across all competitions for Paris Saint-Germain.
At the time, Diacre said Katoto hadn’t done enough to impress her in big games and that was why she was left out. Despite the snub, Katoto didn’t let it affect her form in the next few seasons. She has continued her run as the league’s top scorer and pulled PSG through a difficult season. Arguably, their second-place finish (although well off Lyon, who finished 11 points ahead) was mostly down to her scoring prowess. Voted the best player in the league this year, she has scored more than 20 goals in five consecutive seasons and is a hot favourite to win the Golden Boot at the Euros should France be able to progress through the tournament. She is a goal-getter through and through.
She did have some contract “disagreements” with PSG prior to the tournament, but she sorted those and signed a new deal with the capital club through to 2025 so there shouldn’t be anything on her mind apart from scoring goals.
Hegerberg is a name everyone knows, but the opportunity to see her at a major tournament with Norway is one everyone should relish, because for a long time it looked unlikely that we’d ever see it again. In 2017, she stopped playing as a form of protest against how her national federation treated women’s football. Her decision to come back in March 2022 shook the football world but not as much as the hat trick she scored in her first match back in Norway’s 5-1 win against Kosovo.
After spending 21 months out with an ACL injury, people were unsure what to expect from Hegerberg and whether she would return to her former heights. The inaugural Ballon d’Or Feminin winner has put many of those questions to bed, and what we have seen is a more relaxed Hegerberg who seems to be enjoying her football more than ever.
It is hard not to think that she has a few scores to settle this tournament, and with other world-class players around her such as Guro Reiten and Caroline Graham Hansen, her goal poaching could be crucial to Norway making it out of their group.
Spain’s chances at this Euros are being driven largely by Barcelona’s success in the past two seasons. Names like Alexia Putellas, Aitana Bonmati and Mapi Leon drip off your tongue when discussing their potential, but there’s another young Barca name who also deserves a mention.
Pina dazzled at underage level. Starting out in futsal, she made the move to Espanyol before Barca came calling, and she joined their youth team. She scored 20 goals in 100 games for them, an impressive feat at any level, and also led Spain to victory at the 2018 under-17 World Cup, where she won the Golden Ball. Even at just 20, she knows what it takes to win, and with this time spent surrounded by some of the world’s top players, it is hard to see how her star won’t continue to grow.
It is competitive in the forward places for Spain, and she will have to do the work to make sure she gets a showing, especially as Spain have a tough group in Denmark, Finland and Germany. Pina ended her season with 15 goals from 24 appearances, often doing so coming off the bench for Barca, and scored in each leg of the Champions League quarterfinal win over Real Madrid.
Not many people in Germany can say they hit the levels of Birgit Prinz, but Oberdorf showed from an early age that she could have a future as illustrious as the German great when she took her record for Germany’s youngest World Cup player in 2019. Germany’s record in the Euros is unrivalled but their success in major competitions has teetered off in recent years, and they will be keen to regain their dominance of Europe. This is where players like Oberdorf should step in. She has experience at winning a European trophy as she was part of the squad who won the U17 title in 2017.
An all-round player, she can slot into the midfield or take up a more defensive role and it is her physical presence and sharp decision-making that will make her key for Martina Voss-Tecklenburg this summer. The Germany coach has previously praised her young player’s “physical presence” and that will be key in a difficult group. In addition to her play, she is also known for being vocal on the pitch and not being afraid to coach her teammates as she goes, so much so that she has earned the nickname “Leader” at such a young age.
Five must-see group stage matches
The opening game at Old Trafford has been sold out for months, and a full house will mean smashing the previous record for attendance at a Euros match. It will also be the moment for England to announce themselves at their home tournament. The Lionesses are ranked well above Austria and with what is largely expected to be an England-dominant crowd cheering them on, it will be a key match for getting their tournament off to a good start.
Speaking at a recent media day at St. George’s Park, several England players told ESPN that this was the game they were most looking forward to in the group stages. “I’m looking forward to every single minute of the tournament but I think the first game is the start of it all,” Alessia Russo said. “And obviously being at Old Trafford, it will be really special.”
Denmark vs. Germany, July 8 (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
A replay of the 2017 quarterfinal that ended Germany’s 22-year dominance of the Euros, this is a big game. Not only is it important for both sides because of the competitiveness of their group, but Denmark will want to prove their last encounter and their run to the final wasn’t a one-off, while Germany will be out for revenge.
Having Denmark’s all-time top scorer in Pernille Harder in their ranks is an important play for Lars Sondergaard’s side, as well as the news that top scorer in qualification Nadia Nadim will be making her return from an ACL injury for the tournament.
Netherlands vs. Sweden, July 9 (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Both sides are a lot stronger than Switzerland and Portugal, who are also in their group, and therefore should progress, but nothing is ever certain. Plus, a win for the defending champions Netherlands or one for Olympic runners-up Sweden will settle some preconceptions about both heading into the tournament. Netherlands recently experienced a 5-1 drubbing to England, while Sweden have a case of “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” that they need to overturn.
It will also be an intriguing battle between the Arsenal strike partnership of Miedema and Blackstenius. Normally so in tune with the other at club level, they’ll be hoping they can get the better of each other and bring their countries glory.
France are favourites to win Group D but they could face a challenge against Italy. Milena Bertolini’s side snatched a 1-1 draw with Spain in the lead-up to the tournament and boast eight players from Juventus, who have dominated Serie A in the past five seasons and did remarkably well in the Champions League this season.
France on paper undoubtedly have the stronger side but considering Juventus’ success against Lyon, it would be silly to count Italy out completely. Barbara Bonansea has been a leading light for both club and country and they will be counting on her to perform again.
Germany vs. Spain, July 12 (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)
Group B is without a doubt the most competitive group in the tournament with Denmark, Finland, Germany and Spain all battling it out for those top two spots. While every game will be important, there is an intrigue to Germany vs. Spain as it feels like the old trusted winners coming up against the new kids on the block.
Both have a lot to prove with neither quite living up to expectations in recent years despite the mountain of talent that they possess. Germany are missing strong players in Dzsenifer Marozsan and Melanie Leupolz, but considering their perfect qualification run, they should be capable of a win.
Four big talking points
Can Northern Ireland go beyond their underdogs tag at their first major tournament?
There was a collective sense of joy for Northern Ireland when they qualified for the Euros after just two losses out of eight qualifying games (they could never quite get past the challenge of Norway.) The scenes when they secured qualification were delirious and they followed it up with a record sold-out crowd in Windsor Park for their game in the World Cup qualifiers against England. However, it hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing since then.
Coach Kenny Shiels was forced to apologise after he suggested that women were more likely to concede goals in quick succession as they’re more “emotional” than men. His team backed his apology, however, and the side appear to have just been focusing on their preparations.
They are in a tough group with England and Norway likely to qualify, but they have shown in the past that they are well able to take on opponents above their grade, and with the swell of support behind them, don’t be surprised if they pull off an upset.
Can Spain replicate the success of the men’s side in 2010?
The similarities between the men’s run in the 2010 World Cup and the possibilities for this women’s Spain side are hard to ignore. Both were built off very good Barcelona teams and both were followed by the narrative that club success might not translate to the national side. Vicente del Bosque proved it could, but Jorge Vilda might have a slightly tougher experience.
Spain’s first goal will be to get out of their group, which is the toughest in the competition. If they can do that, there’s no reason why they can’t push further into the tournament. In an interesting move, the Spanish Football Federation renewed Vilda’s contract until 2024 just days before the tournament began. There had been some rumblings that a new face might be needed after the Euros if Spain didn’t perform, with the likes of Ballon d’Or winner Putellas and her Barcelona teammates in the side, but they have committed their trust to Vilda. This summer could be a defining moment for Spanish football.
Will Diacre be able to win over her France side to steer them to victory?
While many hoped that Diacre and France had learned from the experiences in the 2019 World Cup, it seems that is not the case. Amandine Henry and France’s all-time top scorer Eugenie Le Sommer were both left out of the squad after falling out with Diacre, who has never been afraid to publicly criticise her players.
Henry previously described a sense of fear that exists around the camp, which is hardly the best setting for a country looking to become European champions and dispel the demons of 2019. There is also the fact that a large part of the team is made up of players from PSG, who have had a fractious season. Their coach, Didier Olle-Nicole, was suspended for “inappropriate behaviour” while there were still ripple effects from the attack on Kheira Hamraoui.
It is a big job to pull this squad together, but if they can manage to do it, they will be a formidable force and perhaps more so if their previous fractions lead to teams underestimating them.
Who will take home the Golden Boot?
Most players will say that winning for the team is the thing that drives them, but we all know that any great goal poacher will be eager to come out on top over their counterparts. England’s Jodie Taylor won the individual award in 2017 by scoring five goals, followed by Miedema (4) and Lieke Martens (3). While Taylor doesn’t feature this time around, both Miedema and Martens are strong bets for getting the gong this time around.
England’s Ellen White became England’s all-time top goal scorer in November and is still flying in the goals at 33 years old. With Manchester City teammates Hemp and Chloe Kelly on the wings, it wouldn’t be surprising to see her racking up the goals. Elsewhere, there is Putellas in Spain’s camp and returning legend Hegerberg for Norway. Denmark’s Nadim was on a scoring streak before she tore her ACL and she also has her countrywoman Harder to contend with.
It’s hard to pick who might come out on top, but it is equally difficult to see past France’s Katoto, an absolute goal machine, should France be able to go on a run through the tournament.
Kathleen McNamee praises the influence of Chloe Kelly as she scored her first international goal in England’s 3-0 win vs. Belgium.
Three top contenders
Wiegman did it with Netherlands at a home tournament in 2017 and England fans will be praying that she can deliver the same for them this year. There’s no reason to think it’s not possible, either. There is an ease and a togetherness about this England team that seems quite similar to that of the men’s team last summer.
“It’s a real DNA in England to work hard and stick together,” Jill Scott told ESPN. “And why wouldn’t you stick together? You’re all stepping onto the same pitch, you all want the same thing.”
As well as feeling like they have the tactical nous in Wiegman, they have the skill to back it up. They have young players like Hemp, Kelly and Ella Toone who are all leading lights at their respective clubs, while veteran leaders like White, Lucy Bronze and Beth Mead seem primed to get that major-tournament medal.
Heading into a tournament as the previous champions is always a heavy burden to bear, and that much was clear in their 5-1 loss to England ahead of the tournament. It particularly stung with Wiegman having led them to their 2017 title, and it put pressure on Mark Parsons to prove he can do the same. Pressure isn’t always a bad thing heading into a major competition, though, and if Netherlands can get some wins under their belts, it is easy to see them going on a run all the way through to the final.
They do boast one of the best goal getters in the world in Miedema, who is the country’s all-time top scorer with 92 goals. They will need to tighten up their defence, with a lot of their star players featuring in either midfield or up front. Keep an eye on Damaris Egurrola, 22, and Esmee Brugts, 18, who are newer to the fold but have big potential.
Sweden have been building to this moment since the 2019 World Cup, and it will seem like an even bigger slap in the face if they don’t achieve that elusive big-tournament title. Often the Swedish league doesn’t get the same attention as the likes of the WSL, Division One Feminine or Spanish Primera Division, but it should as the Damallsvenskan has been producing top talent for decades now. Sweden have always reached at least the quarterfinals in this tournament and have lost three finals.
For players like Caroline Seger, the most capped Swedish player of all time, it would be great to see Sweden go all the way to the final.
Two bold predictions
Germany will struggle in the tournament
It’s been an interesting few years for Germany. Once the behemoths of European football, both their national and domestic sides have struggled somewhat in big competitions. Without a doubt they are still consistently knocking at the door but they aren’t as ominous a figure as they were pre-2017. When it comes to the earlier stages of competitions (qualifying and group) they cruise, but when it gets down to the business end, there isn’t that same spark.
Martina Voss-Tecklenburg goes into this campaign without two key members of her midfield in Marozsan and Leupolz, and her defence is shaky especially with Marina Hegering struggling with fitness. They had a shock World Cup qualifier loss to Serbia, too, to contend with mentally. While that Germany side was far from full-strength, they should be winning those games. They also have a tough group with teams who feel like they’re on the rise more than they are.
Oberdorf and Sara Dabritz are two exciting players who could be key if they are to progress.
England will make the final, but won’t win
Wiegman has undoubtedly given this England side an edge and sharpness that wasn’t there before. She has shown that she isn’t afraid to make big decisions, such as stripping the captaincy from Steph Houghton to give it to Leah Williamson and declaring the veteran defender not fit enough to make the squad. Socks and sliders are banned from team meetings and she keeps pushing her squad, looking for more ruthlessness.
England also seem to have settled into the role of tournament hosts quite well. Rather than feeling that pressure, the team has eased into the role and appear to be relishing their moment in the sun. However, history has shown that this side struggles when they get to the final end of the competition, and it is a long time to keep focused with all the hype and attention.
It is easy to see this England team making it to Wembley on July 31, but it doesn’t feel like they have that final cutting edge to go all the way.
One pick to win it all
It has proven to be a controversial take to say that Sweden are going to become champions of Europe — because they haven’t won it since 1984 and there are other stronger sides — but the time feels right for Gerhardsson’s side. They fell to a strong Netherlands team in 2019 and probably weren’t at their peak at that stage. They’re coming off the back of an impressive Olympic campaign that saw them narrowly lose to Canada on penalties and they made the world champions, the United States, look like they hadn’t kicked a ball since 2019. There’s also a sense that the players themselves want a different legacy. “I’m so f—ing tired of having a f—ing silver medal,” Kosovare Asllani said after the Olympic final.
They haven’t been beaten since March 2020, apart from the penalty defeat to Canada, and their squad depth is particularly impressive.
“It’s never been this tough,” Gerhardsson said before he announced his squad. “Since myself and Magnus [Wikman, the assistant coach] took over in 2017, the competition for places has not been at this level. And I am not just talking about the starting XI, this is for the whole squad.”
Ten of Sweden’s 40 goals in qualifying came from defenders, and the core of the squad — Asllani, Hedvig Lindahl, Magdalena Eriksson, et al — have been together for a long time. Add in the form of players like Blackstenius and there’s no reason why the No. 2-ranked team in the world can’t get to the finish line first this time.