Sarina Wiegman enjoys the frenzied ambiance at Old Trafford: ‘Couldn’t give my players any instructions’ | European Women’s Football Championship

The first points are in for Sarina Wiegman. At Old Trafford, in front of more than 68,000 spectators, the English won the opening match at the European Championship in Austria with 1-0.

Sports editor

Latest update:
07-07-22, 11:12

By Lisette van der Geest

The ‘simple Hagen’ is standing with her hands behind her back. It is half an hour before it erupts. Another thirty minutes until the whistle sounds and the tournament really starts: the European Championship in our own country. England against Austria, and the home team is one of the favourites, if not the top favourite. Sarina Wiegman (52) knows what it feels like to win a European Championship, but she, simple Hagen as she recently called herself, has never stood in front of an audience as large as now.

Sarina Wiegman. © AFP

Small woman, she joked about her height a few weeks ago, when a microphone for an interview was placed higher than was convenient. Bigger than big stadium. Old Trafford. Home of Manchester United. With more than 68,000 spectators yesterday. A European Championship record. In the stands many parents with children, earlier in the evening strolling outside through the fan zone, or queuing to have their cheeks painted in the colors of the English flag, while now and then a few tufts of Austrians pass by.

Players warm up to the sounds of music blasting loudly through the speakers. Wiegman still has her hands clasped behind her back and is looking forward. To her squad, along the field, until she turns, her gaze sweeps across the stands. With a smile on her face. Never before have so many people come to a European Championship match. No one here who ever played in front of so many spectators.

Who runs the world? girls, sings Beyonce. It’s the evening of the women, for those who didn’t know yet. England is embracing women’s football, which can be heard and seen everywhere. Meter-sized canvases with images of English players hang throughout London, in iconic places such as Tower Bridge. Frequent reference is made to the leap that the sport has made in recent years. Equality to the men, we take it seriously. That’s the motto, that’s the message. At the same time: ‘who run the world? girls

Sarina Wiegman.
Sarina Wiegman. © REUTERS

There was an opening show with fireworks yesterday. National anthems are sung live, just before the whistle is blown. ‘Old Trafford are you ready?’, is the first sound through the speaker. Just like earlier in the evening when the England squad took the field, the sound is deafening. When asked about the noise in the stadium, Wiegman will say after the game: ,,Unbelievable. No words for it. We know where we come from, it’s unbelievable to play here now with so much sound. I couldn’t give my players directions, because they didn’t hear me. But this ambiance is what we want. The crowd was behind us, amazing.

Captain Leah Williamson, like the national coach, was impressed by the atmosphere at Old Trafford. “What an experience this is. This was really special,” she said. “This is a good start.”

Impressive goal difference

With Wiegman at the head, England came to an impressive goal difference of 84-3 in fourteen international matches. Wiegman’s team probably has the strongest and widest selection of this European Championship. Previously, the English won a World Cup qualification match against Austria 1-0, but yesterday the team opened a bit uncomfortably, perhaps a bit nervous and it takes a while until opportunities arise.

It is Beth Mead who puts the English ahead in the sixteenth minute, although goal-line technology and the VAR were first used for approval. England have the most possession, create the most chances – always accompanied by swelling noise – but the team does not really dominate. England go into halftime with a 1-0 lead.

Beth Mead scores the only goal of the game.
Beth Mead scores the only goal of the game. © AP

It is especially Austria that causes excitement in the second half. With some great opportunities in the latter part of the second half, but the save always comes from goalkeeper Mary Earps. ‘England’ continues unabated from the stands, with predominantly high-pitched voices. And it was England yesterday, when Wiegman’s team took the first three points in the tournament with a 1-0 win and then the whole stadium roared along with Sweet Caroline.

Wiegman said afterwards in the press conference that in her opinion there were too many different phases with the English team. Especially in the last part a too rushed phase. “It’s not that I’m frustrated, but I think we can do better. What we get from this is that we need to stay a little calmer when we’re on the ball. Because now they were sometimes a bit too dangerous, because we couldn’t keep the ball. We had chances in the second half, but we were too sloppy on the ball. We should have scored more often, then we would have made it a little easier for ourselves. But winning the first game in the tournament is important.”

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