England face their toughest test yet as they take on Spain in the quarter-finals of Euro 2022 on Wednesday, although neither side have had the smoothest of preparations.
The UK has been hit by an unprecedented heatwave that has seen temperatures reach over 40 degrees, while head coach Sarina Wiegman has not been around the squad after testing positive for Covid-19.
While temperatures are set to drop significantly by the time the two teams walk out at the Amex Stadium at 8pm on Wednesday evening, it has seen England alter their training times and implement additional cooling measures to keep the players in good shape.
While Spain will be used to the heat and humidity, they have also not had the ideal tournament so far. Just days before their opening match against Finland, Alexia Putellas was sidelined with an ACL injury, adding to the already absent Jennifer Hermoso.
The omission of their top two goalscorers has shown at times for Spain in the group stages, who are looking to progress to the semi-finals after being knocked out in the quarters at the last two tournaments.
Wiegman: Covid absences are not a “worst nightmare”
Sarina Wiegman says Covid absences – including her own – are not a “worst nightmare” for her England side, but is not yet sure if she will be in the dugout for Wednesday’s crunch match.
“I’m good, feeling well and ready to go, but still have to wait,” she told the press in a virtual press conference on Tuesday. “Of course, I’m very hopeful [to be at the game], but we’ll see what happens. We do know is if I can’t be there, I’ll be around in another way.
“It’s not the worst nightmare, it’s just the situation we have to deal with. Months ago, we looked at what we can expect, what could develop during the tournament, on and off this pitch, and this was one of them so we set everything in place.
“We have already practised with me not being around, which we already practised a little bit in our pre-camps. But I am around and still doing my job.
“I’ve been involved in all of training from a big distance with a mask on and make sure that I don’t get too close to people. You can observe closely and sometimes give a message to the technical staff, who have a workflow that’s so fluent that everyone knows what to do. We’re all connected anyway.
“We just deal with the situation, it’s unfortunate and we don’t want this but no one ever wanted Covid, it’s something we have to deal with and we want to be agile and flexible.
“It’s a lot better when you do it live and together, but we’ve learnt the last three years that we can be efficient in different ways. That’s what we’re doing not, we’re adapting to the situation.”
Spain are not a new opponent for England – have faced them in the Arnold Clark Cup in February, which ended in a goalless draw – and Wiegman is confident the Lionesses can expose La Roja’s weaknesses.
“They are missing two key players in (Jennifer) Hermoso and (Alexia) Putellas, but I still think they’re a very good team,” she said. “They’re very tight on the ball, but we have also seen over the last few games that they have some vulnerabilities.
“I do expect the game they have played all the time, they will probably have the ball a lot, I hope we will too. We played them before and they had a little more of the ball, but that’s OK in certain moments of the game. I think we’re pretty confident on the ball so I’m excited to see what it’s going to look like.
“It’s all about trying to use our strengths and exploit their weaknesses. We know that if we’re a little deeper on the pitch, there will be a lot of space because of their attacking style of play. We are aware of that.
“Absolutely it’s going to be a top game tomorrow and I hope we will be successful.”
Analysis: ‘If Spain dominate the ball, England could be in trouble’
Sky Sports’ Anton Toloui on the Sky Sports Women’s Euros podcast:
“England have overperformed and Spain have done the exact opposite.
“Spain have a coach with a tactical problem. They’re three games deep and heading into knockout football and they still don’t know their best team. Who is their best left-back? What is their front three? Every time they play, there’s a debate about who should be the starting No 9 or whether they need one. They’ve got fantastic young players on their bench that aren’t getting on at a time when they need inspiration.
“Jorge Vilda was given a new contract going into this, which is a surprise considering there has been a criticism that this has been the problem with Spain for a couple of years. Building towards this tournament, they’ve been getting better and better but if you’re still tinkering with your formation and players during a tournament, then what have you been preparing for?
“There should be a plan in place if your best players go out and there isn’t. We all love watching Putellas play, but there was always the risk she could get injured, suspended or get Covid at any point during the tournament, and there hasn’t been a plan.
“I think that’s Spain’s biggest problem going into this – not playing England, but figuring out who or what they are.
“They’ve changed their central midfield every game and so many players in that team are not playing in their club positions. I don’t know what they’re trying to do, but at the same time, you can’t write them off because they’re a ridiculously good team, technical and if they do have 60 to 70 per cent possession, that will be a danger and England will not want that. Three of their back four are excellent too, it’s just a question of who plays at left-back.
“If Spain dominate the ball, then England could be in trouble.”
Analysis: ‘Spain have underwhelmed so far’
The Telegraph’s Tom Garry on the Sky Sports Women’s Euros podcast:
“If you had told me six months ago, England were going to play Spain in the quarter-finals of these Euros, I would’ve thought it was a disaster, far too early to meet them. They were many people’s favourites to win this tournament, and were the bookmakers’ favourites right up until a week before it started.
“But I think they’ve underwhelmed so far and I know they’re missing Putellas, who is the best player in the world, anyone would miss her. They’re missing Hermoso as well, but I think there are a few things missing, whether that’s tactically, there just doesn’t seem to be the right things cooking.
“I know it’s risky to say, but I’ve rarely been more confident that England will get through a knockout fixtures, which is a ridiculous thing to say because Spain are incredibly talented and will have a lot of possession.
“They will control the ball, but we’ve seen weaknesses in the Spain defence. We saw Finland getting in between the centre backs three or four times in the first half. If Denmark had a little bit more composure, Pernille Harder could have had four assists, she set up so many opportunities.
“It’s a very difficult game, it’s going to be tight, but England have got an amazing chance to get through to the semi-finals.”
Lauren Hemp believes she has yet to show her best form at Euro 2022 for England and revealed Lego and paint-by-numbers help her relax in her downtime.
The 21-year-old winger has started in every game at the tournament and scored her first Euros goal in the 8-0 demolition of Norway in Brighton last week, although Hemp says she is yet to reach the peak of her powers.
“It takes time,” she said in a pre-Spain press conference. “It’s my first major tournament with England, in front of so many fans and it’s nerve-wracking, I’m not going to lie. It’s just being consistent as well, it’s something I’m striving towards.
“Personally, I don’t think you’ve seen the best yet, it takes time and it will take a while. I’m still learning and I need to remember that I’m still so young. I’m taking it all in my stride.
“I’ve got a great group around me who are supporting me and are doing amazing as well. It’s important that we continue this run, everyone has taken confidence from the recent games and it’s important that we take that into the quarter-finals.”
England have based themselves at the Lensbury resort in south west London, and while there is plenty of focus and training, there is also enough downtime where the players can unwind.
Hemp revealed some interesting past times that she uses to help keep herself occupied.
“I like to keep myself busy, I enjoy my Lego, so I’m always doing that in my room and paint by numbers, things like that just to keep me occupied because I don’t always like sitting there and watching TV, I like cracking on with things.
“At the moment, I’m doing a typewriter [in Lego]. It’s random, but I picked the first one I’d seen and got it sent to The Lensbury.
“I enjoy playing table tennis, things like that… I don’t like to think about the game too much, I like to keep it simple as a player. As soon as game day hits, I’m focused.”
Keep up with all the latest from Euro 2022 across Sky Sports and Sky Sports News this summer.
Coverage will be anchored by Sky Sports WSL presenter Caroline Barker, alongside Jessica Creighton and Kyle Walker. Meanwhile, Karen Carney, Sue Smith, Courtney Sweetman-Kirk and Laura Bassett will give analysis throughout the tournament.
They will also be joined by experienced England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley and Manchester City defender Esme Morgan.
The pundits and presenters will work from the Sky Sports Women’s Euro 2022 Mobile Presentation Bus, which will follow the Sky Sports News team around the country to the various stadiums where matches are being played.
In addition, Sky Sports’ Essential Football Podcast will be rebranded for the tournament to Sky Sports Women’s Euros Podcast from 21 June. Hosted by Charlotte Marsh and Anton Toloui, it will feature exclusive news and player interviews in addition to a strong programme line-up around the tournament.
The knock-out phase…
Wednesday July 20
Quarter-final 1: England v Spain – kick-off 8pm, Brighton and Hove Community Stadium
Thursday July 21
Quarter-final 2: Germany v Austria – kick-off 8pm, London Community Stadium
Friday July 22
Quarter-final 3: Sweden v Belgium – kick-off 8pm, Leigh Sports Village
Saturday July 23
Quarter-final 4: France v Netherlands – kick-off 8pm, New York Stadium
Tuesday July 26
Semi-final 1: Winners quarter-final 1 v Winners quarter-final 3 – kick-off 8pm, Bramall Lane
Wednesday July 27
Semi-final 2: Winners quarter-final 2 v Winners quarter-final 4 – kick-off 8pm, Stadium MK
Sunday July 31
Winners semi-final 1 v Winners semi-final 2 – kick-off 5pm, Wembley