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England's women leave a lasting legacy


England will play a final of the European Championships on home soil at Wembley for the second time in little over a year, but the success of the country's women has the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy.

The Lionesses will hope to go one step further then the men’s team in the final as the latter lost the final of the men's Euro 2020 to Italy on penalties last summer.

That match was marred by fan violence as supporters stormed the turnstiles in chaotic scenes that led to Gareth Southgate's men being forced to play behind closed doors in May.

In contrast, the mood around Sarina Wiegman's free-scoring side is one of joy and enthusiasm after a 4-0 semi-final thrashing of Sweden.

"They've done really well tonight and fully deserved everything that they've got through so far," Ali Higginson, a 25-year-old teacher, told AFP as fans gathered to watch the semi-final rout in London's Trafalgar Square.

"Hopefully the final will be a much better final than the men's last year."

Wiegman joked she would be hiding in a private "bunker" for the next few days as the Dutch coach tries to avoid the hype that will build around her side, but admitted to her pride in "inspiring a nation".

Even in defeat, Swedish manager Peter Gerhardsson lauded the wave of positivity his side had come up against from the 29,000 home crowd in Sheffield.

"It's a positive environment to play in even if most of the people want England to win. You can see the players are inspired by it," he said after Sweden's first defeat from open play in 35 matches.

"It's not like they boo the other team, it's nothing like that. I think it is fantastic and you can see the audience is children and happy people."

A record crowd of 87,000 for the women's Euro is expected at a sold-out Wembley on Sunday to round off a tournament that has set the bar at an all-time high for the women's game on and off the field.

England opened the tournament in front of 69,000 at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, for a 1-0 win over Austria.

UEFA said on Tuesday that television viewing figures were up 58 percent on the previous women's Euro in 2017, with 152 million interactions on social media for the group stage alone.

The professional game in England has been gradually growing for some time, even if they are yet to win a major women's tournament.

Clubs have pumped in investment to turn the Women's Super League into a home for star names akin to the Premier League.

"For English women's football this is a great moment. It's not only a month's work, this is years and years of years of work, investment, passion and commitment," said Arsenal's Swedish manager Jonas Eidevall.

But former Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright called on the authorities to ensure the goodwill gathering around the Lionesses is harnessed into change for young girls playing the game.

"Whatever happens in the final now, if girls are not allowed to play football in their PE (physical education), just like the boys can, what are we doing?" Wright told the BBC.

"If there's no legacy to this — like with the (2012) Olympics — then what are we doing as this is as proud as I've ever felt of any England side."

One thing that has not changed over the past year is the soundtrack of the football summer.

Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" has been belted out after every win for Wiegman's women, rivalling "It's coming home" as the England fans' favourite.

"We are the best! We are the best in Europe! We're going all the way! We're going all the way to the top! It's coming home!" communications worker Izzy Miller, 25, told AFP.

After many false dawns, England's 56-year wait for a major trophy in the men's or women's game could finally come to an end on Sunday.


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