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Sunday 29 January 2023 Dublin: 5°C
Alamy Stock Photo England captain Leah Williamson.
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I can't say whether It's Coming Home or not, but Euro 2022 will be a terrific tournament
In her first Euro 2022 column for The42, Heather Payne previews the tournament ahead of kick-off tonight.

OVER THE COURSE of Euro 2022, Republic of Ireland international and Florida State University star Heather Payne will write a regular column for The42. 

The tournament kicks off tonight with the Group A meeting of hosts England and Austria at Old Trafford. 

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It’s incredibly disappointing we’re not there ourselves, but that won’t dampen the excitement for Uefa Women’s Euro 2022.

Myself and my Republic of Ireland team-mates will be watching from afar once again as this summer’s European Championships get underway across the water in England tonight.

It’s the sitting room in Ballinasloe for me, instead of playing under the bright lights of Old Trafford and Wembley Stadium.

What could have been.

I genuinely think we’re as good as some of the 16 teams gearing up for the tournament, and there’s no escaping the feeling that it’s a missed opportunity for women’s football here, especially given the fact it’s so close to home.

It’s a real kick in the teeth, particularly given the nature of how we missed out, but we just have to leave that behind and enjoy the games. I’ll certainly do that, happy to be at home rather than in America with the time difference working in my favour!

It can’t be understated just how huge this is going to be for women’s football. The game is continuing to grow rapidly throughout Europe, best seen by a world record attendance of 91,648 at the Nou Camp for Barcelona’s Champions League semi-final win over Wolfsburg in April.

Everything points towards a very entertaining, terrific tournament.

fans-record-during-the-uefa-womens-champions-league-football-match-between-fc-barcelona-and-vfl-wolfsburg-at-camp-nou-in-barcelona-spain-daniela-porcellispp-credit-spp-sport-press-photo-alam Alamy Stock Photo A general view of the sold-out Nou Camp for the Women's Champions League semi-final. Alamy Stock Photo

What better way to start than a sold-out opener at Old Trafford, the hosts kicking off against Austria tonight [KO 8pm, live on RTÉ and BBC]. As is always the case, there’s a huge amount of noise around England. But the hype is most certainly warranted.

The Lionesses have been unbeaten in their last 14 matches since Sarina Wiegman took charge. Semi-finalists in 2017, they defeated Belgium 3-0, the Netherlands 4-1 and Switzerland 4-0 in their warm-up matches — all big teams, and by big enough margins.

Wiegman is a very experienced coach, she steered her native Netherlands to Euro 2017 glory on home soil, and she has assembled a very strong England squad. Looking at their key players, you have new captain Leah Williamson, Ellen White, Beth Mead, Georgia Stanway, Lauren Hemp and Lucy Bronze… all big names at huge clubs. I could nearly name their whole squad! They have serious depth, with a number of players who can come off the bench and do damage too.

Austria are undoubtedly underdogs tonight, but it might be a tighter game than we think. They’re in the same World Cup qualifying group, and England only won 1-0 the last time they met in November 2021. Looking at interviews from the Austrian players, they’re focusing on themselves, knowing all of the expectation is on England.

Of course, there’ll be extra pressure on the hosts, and a lot of people expecting them to do well. I think they’ll get to the semi-final, at least. England always have this presence about them, they think they’re going to win every tournament that they’re in. I can’t say whether It’s Coming Home or not, but I do think they’ll be very strong contenders for the tournament.

kosovare-asllani-celebrates-scoring-the-equalising-goal Tommy Holl / INPHO It was a 1-1 draw when we met Sweden in Gothenburg in April. Tommy Holl / INPHO / INPHO

Sweden, Norway, Spain and Germany are also in my top five favourites. It’s hard to look past any of them: the Swedes are number two in the world right now, behind USA, and 2021 Olympic silver medallists; Norway have inaugural Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg back on board; I’ve always said Spain, but the loss of Alexia Putellas, the most recent recipient of the Golden Ball, could be huge; and you can never write off the Germans, they’re always there somehow. The eight-time winners are coming in under the radar. You wouldn’t be surprised if they just came out of nowhere and ended up winning the tournament.

The Dutch are always worth keeping an eye on too, led by the ever-impressive Vivianne Miedema. The all-time leading goal-scorer in the Women’s Super League and 2021 BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year, she’s such a huge player for Arsenal and she’s the face of the Netherlands too.

There’ll be so much quality on show: her clubmate Stina Blackstenius for Sweden, Hemp for England, Hegerberg for Norway… the list goes on and on.

It would be remiss of me not to mention our neighbours Northern Ireland, appearing at their first-ever major tournament. It’s a case of mixed emotions for us: you’re very disappointed because you’re thinking that we should be there too — the North overcame Ukraine, who progressed from our group, in the play-offs — but it’d be great to see them do well.

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rachel-furness-celebrates-scoring-a-goal Presseye / William Cherry/INPHO Rachel Furness is a top player for Northern Ireland. Presseye / William Cherry/INPHO / William Cherry/INPHO

They’re in a very tough group with England, Austria and Norway, but the likes of Rachel Furness and Simone Magill can cause serious problems up top. They’ll be looking to get on the counter-attack and get a couple of goals for themselves.

The fact that they’re used to playing England and Austria from World Cup qualifying may help Kenny Shiels’ team, too. They drew with Austria in October so that bodes well. If they can get themselves organised and get their tactics right, they might be able to get something out of the games. 

Watching them against England next Friday, in particular, will certainly be interesting, given all of the history there. It would be the exact same if it was us.

Unfortunately, for now, it’s not.

But we’ll watch from the outside, enjoy the football and hope it will be us sooner rather than later.

September is closer than we think.

- First published 2.05pm, updated 5pm to appear on The Journal.

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