A record 87,192 viewers for a European Championship final – men or women – watched as Chloe Kelly’s first international goal fired the Lionesses to victory over the eight-time winners.
After three defeats at the last hurdle, goals from Kelly and Ella Toone canceled out Lina Magull’s equalizer and sealed a dreamy end to a breathtaking tournament run.
And although Wiegman’s players have defeated Germany just twice in their last 27 meetings, they fought for a hard-fought victory to continue the Dutch coach’s impressive streak.
Injury bad luck for Popp
Just before kick-off, Germany suffered a heartbreak when star striker Alexandra Popp, the tournament’s top scorer with six goals, suffered a muscle injury in warm-up.
Replaced in the starting XI by Lea Schüller, it marked a devastating end to a heartwarming story of redemption for the 31-year-old. After missing the last two euros through injury, Popp had made up the lost time vigorously and equaled the record for the tournament’s best goal tally – set by compatriot Inka Grings in 2009 – with one game to go.
Popp’s visible anguish as she left the pitch contrasted starkly with the euphoric atmosphere of a packed Wembley Stadium as kick-off neared and singers Becky Hill, Steflon Don and Ultra Naté stepped into the center circle to host the preliminary round – match show.
With the area around the stadium teeming with fans and flags several hours before kick-off, it was fitting preparation for the end of a tournament that had been record-breaking well before the trophy was awarded.
The total number of 487,683 fans who attended the matches before the final more than doubled the previous attendance record at Euro 2017 in the Netherlands.
And that was before the historic surge in numbers at Wembley, which surpassed the existing peak for a men’s or women’s European Championship final at Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in 1964 at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu.
Buoyed by domestic support, England started at the front. Fran Kirby created an early chance with a teasing cross for Ellen White at the back post, but the Manchester City striker was only able to deflect her header into the arms of Merle Frohms.
It would be the first of a series of opportunities for White in a restrained first half with few gold edge chances, with both defenses continuing the ironclad form they had seen at Wembley, having conceded just once throughout the tournament.
Compounded by a rapid succession of yellow cards for Georgia Stanway and White, frustration quickly turned to fear for England when a deflected corner caused carnage on the goal line. The ball, inches from the line, seemed destined to settle in the net before being gratefully smothered by England goalkeeper Mary Earps.
Dealing with player grievances would set the tone for a busy day for referee Kateryna Monzul, who dealt out six yellow cards during a hard-fought, hard-fought battle and stopped play for 36 fouls.
England’s best chance of the half came five minutes before half-time when a cut from Beth Mead White pushed into the box, but the off-balance 33-year-old couldn’t stop her shot.
After the restart, it was Germany’s turn to fly from the blocks, with Tabea Wassmuth nearly penalizing Millie Bright for a communication error just two minutes into the second half. But after running to the left, Wassmuth was only able to fire her shot directly at Earps.
Wiegman heralded the changes as Germany continued their fast start, Kirby and White making way for Toone and Alessia Russo. With four goals – all from the bench – Russo had been the tournament’s unofficial ‘golden’ sub ahead of the final, but it was Toone who would steal the crown at Wembley.
After a perfectly weighted long ball from Keira Walsh split the German defence, the Manchester United attacker found herself in the clear, faced with the onrushing form of Frohms. Your Answer? The most exquisite of all chips lifted over the goalie and into it.
When the aim was skillful, the reaction was anything but, as Wembley erupted in ecstatic scenes not seen under the arch since Luke Shaw’s hit the men’s side from down the pitch in an early just over a year ago brought leadership.
Like so many England tournaments before it, this tale ended in tears and another painful chapter seemed about to be written when Magull scored a deserved equalizer with 10 minutes to go.
As Wiegman’s side went deeper into the lead, the pressure finally broke when Wassmuth, after a well-crafted move, slid a low cross into the near post of the Bayern Munich midfielder, who deftly poked the roof of the net to clear the to achieve balance.
Magull came close again in a thrilling regular-time final, with the euphoric atmosphere moments earlier replaced by a nervous tension, temporarily punctuated by a rousing reception for Jill Scott’s introduction.
Substituting for Georgia Stanway, the 35-year-old midfielder became the first England footballer to appear in two international tournament finals.
Tempers flared during a jittery overtime with few chances and plenty of crunching tackles, with Scott engaged in a furious exchange of blows with Sydney Lohmann after she tripped the German.
With legs tiring and penalties nearing, England forced a corner with 10 minutes to go. Lucy Bronze threw the ball down Kelly’s path, who, after a missed shot, tipped the ball over the line at the best moment for her first international goal.
Cue pure chaos, momentarily frozen by Kelly, who paused to check with referee Monzul that her goal had counted. The 24-year-old tore her shirt off to celebrate and received what was probably the most-received yellow card of her career.
Dogged efforts to keep the ball in the corner ticked over the clock as the Wembley crowd forced their players over the line, with Monzul’s final whistle eliciting the biggest roar yet.
“Three Lions” boomed out of the stadium loudspeakers just in time. After 56 years of injury, football had – finally – come home.