England manager Sarina Wiegman will have a few selection decisions to consider ahead of Tuesday night’s Euro 2022 semi-final against Sweden.
The Lionesses cruised through the group stage with three wins, 14 goals and three clean sheets, before encountering a different kind of challenge against Spain in the quarter-finals and having to come from behind, before winning the tense tie in extra-time.
Wiegman, who had all 23 players available to her in training on Monday, has favoured continuity with her team selections, naming the same XI in all four games so far. But what has also been apparent at this tournament is the important role of the wider squad.
Alessia Russo, Ella Toone and Chloe Kelly in particular have featured heavily for the Lionesses despite not actually starting any of the games.
The latest that any of the trio have appeared in any match is when Kelly came on with 20 minutes to go against Norway. Often, they have had at least 25 minutes on the pitch each time and usually more. It speaks volumes as to the depth that Wiegman has on the bench to change games.
Against Austria, England struggled to kill the game off but were pretty much always in control, while against Norway and Northern Ireland it was completely one-sided.
The Spain quarter-final was the first time the hosts have properly struggled at this tournament, going behind and looking on course for a disappointingly early exit until the late turnaround. But it was the introduction of players from the bench that actually changed things – Russo and Kelly were brought on just before the hour mark and Toone just after.
England were second best until Russo came on and offered a different dimension against a tiring defence that had already been stretched and worked by Ellen White. That proved pivotal and it was her downward header in the penalty area that gave Toone the critical goal that forced extra-time.
Russo herself scored three times in the group stage – only Beth Mead in an England shirt has more.
The question that Wiegman must ask herself as Tuesday’s semi-final fast approaches is whether those game-changing contributions deserve to be rewarded with starts. The alternative is to keep the Russo, Toone, Kelly trio in reserve and again use them from the bench in the second half if or when Sweden begin to tire as the game wears on, especially with extra-time a possibility.
That has proven effective so far and it may be that Wiegman doesn’t wish to tweak too much.
One area of the pitch where fans may expect to see a change is left-back. Rachel Daly, typically a forward at club level for Houston Dash, has started all four games but suffered against Spain, was at fault for the goal and was repeatedly targeted by second half substitute Athenea Del Castillo. A well-drilled Sweden will be well aware of that as a potential weakness they could exploit.
Wiegman has three more natural left-backs in the squad in Alex Greenwood, Demi Stokes and Jess Carter, who all have solid credentials to get the nod – it was Greenwood who replaced Daly in the quarter-final, stemming the tide just before England got back into the game.
This will be England’s fourth consecutive semi-final appearance at a major tournament since reaching the last four of the World Cup in 2015. Facing Sweden is a huge test, but immortality potentially awaits this squad if they can go all the way in the next few days.