England’s glorious Lionesses are one step from greatness after Sweden thrashing

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It is 9.30pm in Sheffield and if there is anywhere you would rather be than here then, frankly, you are a fool. There are still 20 minutes remaining; the bit when it’s supposed to be reaching a nervous crescendo, remember. In all four corners of Bramall Lane, supporters are singing “It’s Coming Home” but also looking at one another and giggling. This isn’t supposed to happen. Not like this. England are meant to blood and thunder their way through competitions, not waltz and whistle while they work.

England were magnificent because they were not always magnificent, if that can still make sense. This was not the stroll of Norway and Northern Ireland, nor was it the gutsy, make-do victory over Spain. Sweden are legitimately brilliant and they troubled England. And yet England ended it by making a quadruple substitution to save players for the final and passing the ball at walking pace because their opponents were broken.

It was heady and it was joyous. When Beth Mead left the pitch to be substituted, the prolonged cheers as she left the pitch made the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Forget Mead’s composure in front of goal for a minute; I’ve no idea how she didn’t just burst into tears then. It’s not always easy being a sporting hero. It’s worth it for the rare moments when you feel as if you could walk onto a cloud and it would hold your weight.

We’re going to have to start with The Goal, and we’re not even talking about Beth Mead stopping a cross almost dead, swivelling and firing the ball on the turn to make it 1-0. Not when Alessia Russo is backheeling the ball through a goalkeeper’s legs from wide in the six-yard box. Hedvig Lindahl will wish to return home and sit in a dark room for a while. She was nutmegged, chipped and rifled past, surely the goalkeeper’s version of hung, drawn and quartered.

There were new heroes in those 30 minutes that seem like a distant memory now but provided the foundation. Mary Earps has spent a good portion of this tournament with roughly the same view as the rest of the country, watching on as England weaved us a dream in the final third. Not on Tuesday. Earps made two superb saves at 0-0 and another after England had taken the lead. She used to go with her father to the playing fields in Edwalton, Nottingham, near her house and practice for ours. It was all for this.

More than a word of praise for Rachel Daly too, who so many thought would lose her place to Alex Greenwood having sustained twisted blood and a little dented pride against Spain. Daly started and led by example. It takes guts to back yourself to play with the same gusto that caught you out in the previous match. Good on Wiegman for her continued faith.

It is easy – perhaps even a little too trite – to say that first half an hour reveal the moments when Sarina Wiegman earns her corn, but it’s also true. Not in the present, you understand. Wiegman sits and she frowns and she furrows her brow and occasionally she or a coach scream and wave their hands as if performing heavy metal through semaphore.

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But the work has been done. England’s response to these moments of adversity, these unpleasant foes, is not physical or tactical. It is purely mental. Wiegman has told her players that they must be calm because only through composure can you produce your technical best. And when England perform at their technical best, they really are one of the best teams in their sport. Suddenly Sweden were swamped and England were riotous.

On Tuesday afternoon, one of the national drivetime radio shows interviewed a family outside Bramall Lane who were attending the match. As the vox pop finished, the reporter inevitably asked for a score prediction.

“4-0,” said the child without missing a beat. Cue much laughter, as if to say “Silly, naive little boy, you know nothing. This is England in a major tournament semi-final, how can you possibly think it will be that comfortable.” Let’s hope that boy rings in tomorrow for some freelance punditry work.

Another couple were asked if they had tickets for the final, and revealed that they were supposed to be going on holiday but would cancel it and get what refunds they could if England were in it. “We wouldn’t be able to miss it,” they said.

And they’re right. If you have followed England through this tournament, watching as a team grew from hopefuls to heroes, how could you possibly miss it? These fantastic players are one step from greatness and Wembley will be full to the brim of those intending to witness the greatest day of their lives.

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