After one of the most difficult nights in Sarina Wiegman’s tenure so far, came perhaps the most complete.
Only a single round earlier, England almost faced an early exit after having to come from behind against Spain, eventually winning after extra time and only after having to really change their approach to combat a side who had prevented the Lionesses from playing their own preferred gameplan.
But here, after an end-to-end and hold-your-breath first quarter of an hour or so, England managed to first control, then excel, then be utterly ruthless against one of the world’s best sides.
A 4-0 scoreline against Sweden to reach the final of Euro 2022 is more impressive by a huge stretch than putting 20 past Latvia in a qualifier, or even than beating the holders – and Wiegman’s former side – Netherlands 5-1 in a warmup match. This was a game which mattered, with everything riding on it, and England did a lot more than just win: they reminded themselves how good they can be, and reminded the watching world what happens when their best players are allowed to impose themselves.
And for that, perhaps Wiegman deserves an extra mention, an extra nod of approval.
There were – as there always are throughout international tournaments – calls for certain changes to be made after the Spain game. Some of that was technical, or tactical, but more was just due to a look of fatigue about some players.
But with an extra day’s rest, an extra day to prepare and perhaps push their own claims in training sessions, Wiegman opted for more of the same: no changes to the line-up and full faith in those who had already beaten Austria, Norway, Northern Ireland and (eventually) Spain.
On the evidence shown in this 90 minutes, there was little reason to do otherwise, as from back to front it seemed almost every individual put in a key moment somewhere along the line.
Few did so more often than Mary Earps, though, which hints at how the scoreline wasn’t the full story; Sweden had their chances at the start of both halves and the goalkeeper was exceptional, brilliantly tipping one effort just over the bar, claiming high balls with authority and even saving with her feet within 30 seconds of kick-off.
The pair down the right flank, too, found the clinical touch when it was needed most. While Sweden spurned their best chances or found Earps in the way, Beth Mead and Lucy Bronze both buried the openings presented to them.
Somewhat pointedly, neither goalscorer had a particularly impressive first half in terms of their build-up play, which only serves to make it all the more notable that they still had the composure and mindset to make it count when it mattered.
Mead twice gave sloppy passes straight to yellow shirts in dangerous areas, while Bronze was not at fault, per se, for a series of Swedish attacks down her channel, but was certainly called upon to drop deeper as they repeatedly targeted the space behind her high starting position.
But over and over again at the top end of the game in the biggest of tournaments, quality tells, and this partnership in particular has been amazingly fruitful for the Lionesses this summer.
They combined for the first, Bronze’s low delivery from the right instantly trapped by Mead, before she spun and made perfect connection to drill into the far corner. It was the full-back who then netted the second just after the restart, a header off a corner, and from that moment there was never any doubt about who would be reaching the final.
Add in the superb combination play between Georgia Stanway and the irrepressible Fran Kirby, the lightning-quick impact off the bench yet again from Alessia Russo and a massive performance from Rachel Daly – another who had a tough outing against Spain – and the second half was a non-stop procession of belief.
It was the ruthlessness borne of absolute certainty, both in their own gameplan and in their ability to take that long-awaited step to a major tournament final, a first one since 2009.
Germany’s Inka Grings was, until tonight, the only woman to ever score six times at a European Championship.
England’s Mead has now become the second, and thanks to the heroics of herself and her teammates, she has one more game to break that record and win the title on home soil.