England finally reach the world’s greatest stage and their achievement is worth celebrating

Alex Greenwood claimed she “cannot put it into the words”, so she just kept repeating the words that made her feel like that. “We’re in a World Cup final.”

“I just keep having to say it,” she laughed.

It is a glorious fact worth actually reflecting on, even as thoughts quickly turned to Sunday, what next, who starts, whether Lauren James comes in.

If actually winning the World Cup is the great ambition of any career, the final itself is the great stage. Those who step onto the pitch will leave their own mark on history, the very line-ups part of the record that makes football so rich.

“We wanted to take England and women’s football to a new level and we have certainly done that over the last 12 months,” Ella Toone said. They’ve taken it all to the highest level for the very first time.

That is worth celebrating, as Sarina Wiegman and the players insisted they would be doing. The squad were loving it out on the pitch but, as the Stadium Australia sound system played the Fifa-approved songs, they quickly realised they wanted to get into the dressing room and play their own music.

This was the overriding feeling as they then made their way through the mixed zone.

“We will celebrate tonight, I’d rather be in the changing room than talking to you lot,” Toone smiled.

Everything they said still captured all it means. Some of them might have been cliches, but they’re cliches for a reason. They’re just what comes to mind as you try to make sense of something that goes beyond your imagination; your hopes.

“It’s unbelievable, this is what dreams are made of,” Chloe Kelly said.

“It is history,” Lucy Bronze added.

Toone, meanwhile, graciously spoke a lot despite pleading she was so eager to get away.

“This is going to be the biggest game of our careers.”

The celebrations continued when the Lionesses reached the dressing room (The FA via Getty Images)

That’s apt, because this – to quote their manager – has been a team that has grown with this World Cup.

That is the major theme of, and explanation for, England’s historic run to the final. Performances have gotten better. Key players, and especially the attackers, have found form. Solving so many problems has honed the team.

It meant they were supremely primed for what was supposedly their biggest test so far, a semi-final against a fine Australia in front of a fervent home crowd. There was even the shock of Sam Kerr’s thunderbolt, and a brief period where it seemed like it could all turn.

Not a bit of it. Weaker sides, or even previous England teams, might well have wilted at that point. England turned it into their second biggest win of the World Cup so far, three of their attackers fittingly scoring again.

“We just have this belief, nothing fazes us,” Toone added. “We face a lot of challenges this tournament and we have come through every one of them.”

Lucy Bronze echoed that.

“This tournament we’ve had so many things go against us, red cards, key players getting injured before the tournament, during the tournament, going a goal down in the last game, going against the host nation, everyone’s throwing everything at us including the kitchen sink. And we’ve just won games.”

The variety of ways they have to win was pleasingly followed by the variety of the goals. One was just a straight contender for goal of the tournament, even as it swerved into the top corner, a moment of pure quality.

“Honestly, that’s the best shot I’ve hit in my life,” Toone said.

Lauren Hemp starred in England’s semi-final victory scoring the Lionesses second goal and assisting the third (AP)

The second was a classic piece of opportunism, if from a rudimentary approach. Lauren Hemp had to be there, though, just as she was almost everywhere throughout this semi-final.

“She has been like that the last few games,” Toone said. “She is just a nuisance. She runs in behind, she comes to feet, she is fast and she is strong. I think she would be a nightmare to play against and she has shown that today with a goal and an assist too . But it’s a team performance, we all dug deep.”

The last from Alessia Russo was a classic striker’s finish, after some deft play from Hemp.

It all makes it very difficult for Wiegman to bring Lauren James back in. This has been another irony of the World Cup, that shows how well England have adapted.

Wiegman generally doesn’t like to change a team that works, but has been forced to do so at pretty much every step. Now, as the path clears to the grand stage, she will surely keep it as is. James might even be better value as a potential game-changer to come on.

Even someone as meticulous and forward-thinking as Wiegman, however, admitted that was something to consider tomorrow.

Sarina Wiegman has solved every problem so far, leading England to the World Cup final (REUTERS)

Now was the time to just be happy.

Hence there was a joyous response when Greenwood was asked about previous semi-final disappointment in 2015 and 2019, and how England had never previously got this far.

“That’s something we don’t have to think about any more.”

There was now only hope, ambition, dreams coming true.

“I’ve always said the one thing I’ve wanted for England is to get a star above my crest,” Bronze said. “The men have it and we don’t, so finally we can share the same crest.”


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