Ella Toone’s stunning second-half chip over Merle Frohms looked to have been enough but Lina Magull’s 79th‑minute strike forced extra time.
With penalties looming ominously, Kelly pounced, turning in from close range to steal the headlines after battling back from an anterior cruciate ligament injury that ended her Olympic dream and threatened her European one.
Whipping her shirt off in celebration, replicating the historic image of the USA forward Brandi Chastain in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final that helped the game explode in the US, Kelly pointed to the revolution that the Lionesses have kick-started in England.
It was a record crowd for a European Championship final of 87,192, beating the 79,115 set in the men’s final in 1964 and also topping the 80,203 that watched the 2012 Olympic gold-medal match to set a record for a women’s international in England. That was added to the six Women’s European Championship attendance records that had tumbled with each round of this tournament.
The public impact of the tournament was exemplified by tube trains heading to northwest London littered with England shirts from before midday. Hours before kick-off Wembley Way was flooded with fans. Amid the carnival-like vibes were whispers of nerves and heightened emotions from those deeply invested in the development of the women’s game – including the families of some of the players who had ducked out of the ground to soak up the atmosphere.
This was the final that Euro 2022 deserved, the two best teams in the tournament pitted together and a tie steeped in history. For England it was a chance to prove the gap between the European powerhouse and the home team had closed in the 13 years since their 6-2 final defeat at the hands of Germany.
Sarina Wiegman’s side needed a good start and they had one before a ball had been kicked with Alex Popp, tied for the golden boot with Beth Mead on five goals going into the final with the latter collecting the award with more assists, a late withdrawal from Germany’s starting XI having picked up an injury in the warmup. It was a bruising exit for the enigmatic Popp, who has more than 100 caps but had never played in a European Championship before this because of injuries.
Both managers had promised a tight contest and, if the pressure of the moment threatened to get under the skins of the Lionesses, then nerves were eased almost instantly. Lauren Hemp burst free on the left and delivered for Ellen White at the back post, but her header was easy for Frohms, who had conceded only one goal before this final.
With the battle in midfield hotting up, and the competition’s main powerhouses in the middle – Georgia Stanway and Lena Oberdorf – going head to head, it was a matter of time before one went in the book. It was Stanway this time but Oberdorf collected her own booking after the break.
Germany almost took the lead in the 25th minute, with Mary Earps fumbling a corner that bounced around before she fell on it, relieved. A short pause for a VAR check on a possible handball was quickly over.
With the decision-making of the Ukrainian referee, Kateryna Monzul, questionable there was a hesitancy, and the game became a little niggly, making the half-time whistle very welcome.
Germany had scored six first-half goals in five games in their run to the final, making a 0-0 score at half‑time not the worst position for England to be in. The Lionesses have taken time to find their rhythm in each of their knockout games. Wiegman’s players were forced to come from behind against Spain in their quarter-final to progress and a more clinical Sweden could have done some serious damage in the first 30 minutes of the semi-final.
The forward Jule Brand was taken off for Tabea Wassmuth at the break with Germany desperate to rejig, kill the threat of Lucy Bronze and provide more protection for Felicitas Rauch, and the team in green once again started more brightly.
The introduction of Toone and Alessia Russo in place of Fran Kirby and White has become a familiar sight. The switches again injected fresh energy into the Lionesses and within six minutes England had the lead that triggered the wildest of celebrations. A long-range line-splitting pass from Keira Walsh fed Toone and the Manchester United forward clipped the ball over Frohms.
England pushed for a second but, as the clocked ticked, they sank deeper and deeper. Magull provided a constant threat, firing a rising shot off the bar with the follow-up from Lea Schüller straight at Earps. But, with 11 minutes of normal time remaining, the dogged serial winners levelled. Neat play from the substitutes Sydney Lohmann and Wassmuth allowed the latter to ping in a cross that was turned in by Magull from close range.
England’s quarter-final victory against Spain had proved tense but it was a comparatively relaxed evening stroll as extra time kicked off. Germany were in the ascendency after hurried instructions were delivered in the huddles. It was as if Wiegman had played her hand too early. Yes, Russo and Toone had provided the impetus for the opener but, with Kelly also on, suddenly the bench looked a lot lighter as extra time wore on and Germany brought on the fresh legs of the midfielder Linda Dallmann and the defender Sara Doorsoun.
If there is one thing this England team have shown, though, it is extraordinary resilience and, with 10 minutes remaining a Hemp corner was swung in, the ball bounced down off Bronze and Kelly turned in her first international goal. From there, buoyed by the goal and the raucous crowd, England pushed to put on a show and seal the deal. It was gutsy, exhausting and exhilarating, tears flowed and England brought it home.
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