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Pitch perfect: 10 things to celebrate about Euro 2022 | Women’s Euro 2022

Joyful young fans and a friendly atmosphere

The abundance of cheap tickets meant Euro 2022 was affordable for families – with children able to get into some group stage matches for as little as £7.50. The stands were consequently packed with many more children than you usually see at international tournaments and the catering was doing as much trade in fizzy drinks and crisps as it was in beer. It all led to a much friendlier atmosphere than you often get at men’s international matches. There was no booing of national anthems, no need for segregation, a much more minimal security presence and a lot of dancing and singing.

Northern Ireland’s tournament debut

Northern Ireland qualifying for their first tournament finals meant it was not only the hosts representing the home nations at Euro 2022. The lowest-ranked nation of the final 16, Northern Ireland overcame Ukraine in a playoff to reach the finals. They scored only once during their three defeats in Group A – Julie Nelson’s goal against Norway – but the midfielder Rachel Furness described being there as a game-changer for women’s football in Northern Ireland, saying “qualifying for the Euros has worked wonders”.

Julie Nelson celebrates after the match in which she scored Northern Ireland’s first goal at a women’s tournament
Julie Nelson celebrates Northern Ireland’s first goal at a women’s tournament. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

A footballing lesson from France

Entering the tournament as one of the favourites, France came up short at the semi-final stage. However, along the way they had bedazzled in Rotherham with an astonishing first-half performance against Italy in their opening group game. Grace Geyoro became the first woman to score a first-half hat-trick at a Euros finals as France raced into a 5-0 lead at half-time. The French domination in the first half was even more impressive than England’s 8-0 rout of Norway the following day. Italy’s eventual 5-1 defeat seemed to knock all the confidence out of the squad, who ended up bottom of Group D.

Grace Geyoro of France
Grace Geyoro prepares to put Italy to the sword in France’s opening match. Photograph: Robbie Jay Barratt/AMA/Getty Images

Alessia Russo’s outrageous backheel

Georgia Stanway can fairly feel slightly aggrieved that the absolute screamer she scored in England’s tricky quarter-final against Spain was eclipsed as the Lionesses’ goal of the tournament by Alessia Russo’s incredible backheel against Sweden in the semi-final. England had endured a tough opening against the Swedes, but by the time Russo had the audacity to attempt her backheel, it demonstrated the swagger with which the Lionessess were marching on to Wembley.

Alessia Russo performs a backheel in the women’s Euros
Alessia Russo audaciously scores England’s third goal against Sweden. Photograph: James Gill/Danehouse/Getty Images

No penalty shootout heartbreak

Penalty shootouts might be the highest drama a tournament can bring, but the Women’s Euros got through all seven knockout games without them. England’s comeback against Spain and Linda Sembrant’s last-gasp winner for Sweden meant no woman missed a fateful kick to send her nation home.

More good news for Neil Diamond’s bank account

Yet again providing the soundtrack as England reached a final at Wembley, Neil Diamond has had another few bumper weeks for royalties for people playing Sweet Caroline. Even the Band of the Coldstream Guards at Buckingham Palace got in on the act.

Sweet Caroline played at changing of the guard before Women’s Euros final – video

Alexandra Popp finally made a Euros

Dreadful injury problems through the years have repeatedly robbed Alexandra Popp, 31, of the opportunity to shine at a European Championship finals, despite having won more than 100 caps. But she had a tournament to remember as Germany made their way to Wembley, netting six goals and becoming the first German player to score in five successive matches at a finals.

Alexandra Popp of Germany reacts during the semi-final against France.
Alexandra Popp issues instructions during Germany’s semi-final victory over France. Photograph: Naomi Baker/Getty Images

However, her Euros curse came back to haunt her as she picked up an injury in the warm-up on Sunday and missed the final against England.

The little car that could came back

The first time a tiny remote-controlled car drove on to the pitch to deliver the match ball to the referee before the opening game of the men’s Euro 2020 tournament last year, fans were left asking: “What have we just watched?”

But it has since become a beloved staple of European tournaments. The car only appears at the opening match, the semi-final and the final, but it was greeted with huge cheers at Wembley on Sunday.

The remote-controlled Volkswagen car delivers the match ball at Wembley.
The remote-controlled Volkswagen car delivers the match ball at Wembley. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Uefa/Getty Images

The car, inevitably, has its own Twitter account. Just don’t mention that as soon as it is out of shot, somebody unceremoniously picks it up and runs off with it, because the little Volkswagen obviously cannot be trusted not to drive back on to the pitch during the game.

Chloe Kelly’s iconic celebration

Chloe Kelly’s joyous shirt-waving run to embrace England’s substitutes and coaching team, having scored what turned out to be the 110th-minute winner, was surely worth the subsequent yellow card for overexuberant celebrating. The referee who handed it to her, Kateryna Monzul of Ukraine, had spent five days sheltering underground in Kharkiv while it was being bombed by Russian forces.

England footballer Chloe Kelly waves her shirt over her head
Chloe Kelly waves her shirt over her head after scoring England’s winner at Wembley. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Record crowd after record crowd

The tournament had been talked about as changing the game in terms of attendances – and it broke record after record. The 68,871 at the opening game at Old Trafford, where England beat Austria, was a new record for the women’s game. Then Milton Keynes and Sheffield in turn set new records for women’s Euros fixtures not featuring the host nation.

On Sunday, 87,192 people watched the final. Held at the same venue as last year’s defeat for England’s men against Italy, but without Covid restrictions in place, it became the most-attended Euros final in history, beating a record that had stood since 1964.

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