MANCHESTER, England (AP) — The dream for the English players is to have Old Trafford at 76,000 capacity for their Women’s European Championship opener against Austria next July before lifting the trophy in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley.
“Playing in a host tournament is the pinnacle of your career,” England defender Lucy Bronze told The Associated Press at the draw for next year’s tournament on Thursday. “It doesn’t get much better than playing in front of a home crowd, potentially lifting a trophy at the end of it. As an England team at the minute, we’re all dreaming of that.”
But first England, which reached the semifinals at the 2017 Euros and the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, will have to advance from Group A. There’s also a game in Brighton against Norway, which England beat 3-0 in the 2019 World Cup quarterfinals, before going to Southampton to play Northern Ireland, which has qualified for a women’s tournament for the first time.
There’s a familiar feel to the group. England, Northern Ireland and Austria are also currently in the same World Cup qualifying group. England beat Northern Ireland 4-0 at Wembley last weekend.
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The furthest England’s women have reached at a tournament is finishing runners-up at the Euros in 1984 and 2009. This time they’ll be hoping home advantage helps — just as it did for the men’s team reaching the European Championship final in July.
“When the crowd is there they are going to be our 12th woman,” England manager Sarina Wiegman said. “We just want to connect with the fans and let them help us create a great performance.”
Wiegman has already lifted the trophy — with her native Netherlands in 2017 — before leading them to the World Cup final in 2019, losing to the United States. The Euro 2022 draw, which took place across the road from Manchester United’s Old Trafford, placed the Netherlands in Group C with Sweden, Russia and Switzerland.
In Group B, the Germans have a chance for revenge over Denmark, which ended their 22-year reign as European champions at the quarterfinal stage in 2017.
“You don’t get gifted titles any more,” Germany coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg said. “In European football we have got so close to each other. We have so many good national teams that have developed so much in the women’s game. Therefore, eight or nine teams can win this tournament, I’m certain of that. And we also know that in football you need a bit of luck, so we are happy about that.
“But we want to be recognized and as Germany we want that that to mean that we can win the European Championships.”
Group B also features Spain and Finland — and only the top two advance to the quarterfinals.
“This is the strongest and toughest group,” Spain coach Jorge Vida said.
France will play Italy, Belgium and Iceland in Group D expecting little backing from locals.
“I am incredibly happy to play the Euros here in England. This country is the birthplace of football,” France coach Corinne Diacre said. “There are wonderful pitches, wonderful stadiums and I think there are going to be wonderful crowds as well. But we know that the English people won’t support France, so we hope that there will be some fans from France in the stands.”
The final is at Wembley Stadium on July 31 — after being delayed for a year due to the pandemic.
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