‘Am I in a fairytale?’ Wiegman stunned after guiding England to World Cup final | Women’s World Cup 2023

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The England manager, Sarina Wiegman, was almost lost for words after she guided the Lionesses to their first World Cup final with a 3-1 win against Australia, asking: “Am I in a fairytale or something?” Ella Toone, Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo scored in Sydney to set up a showdown with Spain on Sunday.

“I don’t know”, the Dutchwoman said when asked if she could fully grasp her achievements. “I really appreciate it. When we made the first final [Euro 2017 with the Netherlands] you think: ‘This is really special.’ It might not ever happen again. Then you make a second final, then a third, then a fourth. All the time, you’re thinking this might not ever happen again because the competition is so hard. It is very special. I do know that. But tomorrow, I’m just going to prepare for Spain.”

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It is an extraordinary feat for a manager who, despite adversity over the past 12 months, has masterminded a way for England to succeed after two successive defeats at the semi-final stage of the World Cup in 2015 and 2019. Under her tenure, her team have lost only once in 37 matches – a friendly against Australia in April.

Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood are two of the players in this squad who experienced both of those World Cup defeats. Now they have finally been able to put those memories to bed. “This is the one thing I’ve always wanted, to be in the final of a World Cup and after two times of getting such disappointment, I honestly can’t believe it,” Bronze said.

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‘So proud’: Australia fans devastated as England reaches World Cup final – video

“No [I did not watch the World Cup as a girl], I was out playing outside. I watched the World Cup in Germany when England played and got knocked out by France [in 2011]. That’s my memory of the England team and, since that edition, I’ve played in every single one. I’ve always said the one thing I’ve wanted for England is to get a star above my crest.”

Greenwood echoed her teammate’s sentiments. “It’s been a dream since I was a kid, same as everyone else,” she said. “I am so proud of the team. I thought we were brilliant tonight … I cannot put it into words. I just keep having to say: ‘We’re in a World Cup final.’”

Lucy Bronze

It was a performance from the Lionesses that exuded all the confidence and experience they have developed over the past two years. They have been tested by injuries and other challenges since winning the European Championship last year but the way they have grown into this tournament and handled this potentially tricky encounter is impressive.

With almost 75,000 fans against them, they took the lead in the first half through a rocket of a strike from Toone. The Matildas responded after the break and a spectacular 63rd-minute finish from Sam Kerr seemed to alter the course of the match. The Lionesses regrouped quickly, however, hitting back through Hemp before Russo put the result beyond doubt.

“I can hardly describe how proud I am of the team,” Wiegman said. “How this team has adapted all the time, before the tournament, during the tournament and in this game. How we’ve come through and found a way to win is incredible.

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“So many things have changed. Of course, the expectations in England have been high all the time but after winning the Euros, it went up. I also think the lives of the players have changed a lot. They’ve had to adapt to that which has some good things but also some challenges.

“Performing got us where we are right now and will keep us where we are. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re still growing and getting better. We’ve seen that we can adapt to situations we’ve never been in before and players can translate what we want to do to the pitch very well, and that comes with experience and a lot of intelligence.”

The captain, Millie Bright, reiterated her manager’s words about the team. “We can play many different ways,” she said. “That’s the beauty of this squad. Whatever an opponent throws at us, we adapt, and we find a way to overcome.”

One final hurdle stands in the way, in the form of Spain on Sunday. It will be another test of the mettle and development of this team as they seek to make history once more.

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