Lionesses: Can 2023 be even better for England’s women after historic year?

Sarina Wiegman

It has been an unforgettable year for the Lionesses.

Becoming European champions on home soil, qualifying for the 2023 World Cup with a 100% record, beating the world number one at Wembley and going an entire year unbeaten.

“You can’t beat that, you can only equal that,” said England manager Sarina Wiegman as she reflected on a memorable spell.

England’s success has coincided with Wiegman’s arrival and they are unbeaten after 26 games under the Dutchwoman since her appointment in September 2021.

They have already broken records, created history and perhaps changed the women’s game forever.

So what next as they prepare for a World Cup in 2023?

“Of course we want to break all the records, but breaking records doesn’t [give you what you need]. We always bring it back to what we have to take action in,” added Wiegman.

“How do we stick together as a team? I truly believe that’s where it starts. The players feel very comfortable with that way of approach.

“At the moment it works really well and they feel really comfortable. You can tell because we are enjoying ourselves – and winning helps.”

‘Within six weeks they became famous’

England celebrate winning Euro 2022

Few could have imagined 2022 going so well for the Lionesses. Wiegman took over after England had won just four of 14 matches and the Great Britain squad lost in the quarter-finals of the Olympic Games.

July’s Euro 2022 victory was undisputedly the highlight of the year and Wiegman revealed players gave their match worn shirts to members of the staff to keep as memorabilia.

“I still have my navy suit but it’s not a collector’s item – I’m not very sensitive to those things. Of course it will stick forever with me,” she said.

“I think if I would have worn a shirt as a player, I would absolutely keep it. Beth Mead gave me her shirt so I’m really happy to have one. That’s a very good present for us.”

The final was watched by 87,192 people at Wembley – a record for a Euros game in men’s or women’s football.

The late Queen Elizabeth II led tributes to the Lionesses afterwards and thousands gathered in Trafalgar Square the following morning to celebrate.

Faces of the Lionesses were on the front and back pages of every national newspaper, while murals were painted across the country in various cities.

The players’ lives have changed – so how does Wiegman manage that as they prepare to continue their unbeaten run and win the World Cup next summer when it is held in Australia and New Zealand?

“There is pressure, we know,” she added. “We know that when you win, the pressure will be higher and higher – that’s just the way it works. The concern is that the players’ lives have changed a little bit.

“Some players really adapted to the situation already, some players need a little bit of support. There are a lot of things outside of football that are related to football that are asked of players now.

“It’s finding the balance and not getting overwhelmed. That takes time. Some players are really young. Within six weeks they became famous English people. Everyone wants something from them.

“Your brains have to get used to your new life. It brings lots of good things but also some sacrifices. Some players can’t walk down the street anymore without being [mobbed by fans].”

‘We have to take our game to the next stage’

England celebrate victory over the United States at Wembley

After a perfect 2022, England’s task arguably gets harder next year.

There is more expectation, more pressure and greater competition – back-to-back world champions the United States and Olympic champions Canada are among those who will feature at the World Cup.

Having not lost a game yet under Wiegman and, after beating the USA at Wembley in October, is there still room for improvement?

“Yes absolutely, I think we have to get better. The game develops so quickly,” said Wiegman.

“Next year [at the World Cup], because of the amount of countries that join in the group stage, I think the beginning will be a little bit different [to Euro 2022].

“When you get further in the tournament, the level is going to be so high. Different styles of play, different coaches – which is exciting and challenging.

“But we have to take our game to the next stage to make the chance of being successful as high as possible.

“There are more things we want to do to be more unpredictable and add to our game. I’m not going to share all of it!”

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