England play Holland in the semi-finals of Euro 2017 with coverage starting at 7:30pm on Channel 4 (kick-off 7:45pm)
A record crowd of 27,000 is expected at the FC Twente stadium tonight, as England take on Euro 2017 hosts the Netherlands in a sold-out semi-final, while at home millions more will be tuning in to see the Lionesses in action – 3.3 million watched their quarter-final win over France.
It’s because the stakes are high for both teams, so far undefeated at the Euros: the hosts have the home advantage, and the nation expects. They’ll be seeking revenge for the last time the sides met in a Euros semi-final in 2009, when England emerged the victors after a 2–1 extra time win, although they ended the tournament as runners-up.
On paper, England have the edge: in 19 encounters with Holland, they’ve only lost three times. In their most recent clash, in November last year, England won 1-0 with a goal from Jodie Taylor, who’s in scorching form at the Euros – in England’s opening match she became only the third English player to score a hat-trick in a major tournament, joining Gary Lineker and Geoff Hurst.
But if there’s anything this year’s contest has taught us, it’s that rankings and reputations mean nothing. Favourites have fallen – including defending champions Germany – and underdogs have advanced: Denmark, who have never reached the final of a major tournament, and Austria, who are making their Euros debut, contest tonight’s earlier semi-final.
England will fancy their chances against either team – but first they’ve got to beat the Netherlands. The confidence is certainly there after their quarter-final victory, their first win against France since 1974, but they must cope with the absence of key players: goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, who’s kept a clean sheet, is out with a broken leg, while midfielder Jill Scott – who scored the decisive goal against the Netherlands back in 2009 – is suspended after picking up two yellow cards.
And they, and we punters, underestimate Holland at our peril: their squad includes six players from England’s Women’s Super League, plus new Barcelona signing Lieke Martens. But boss Mark Sampson has said that this familiarity will work in England’s favour and insists England can perform under pressure.
It’s a refrain that may make fans of the men’s team rightly sceptical – but the Lionesses are a very different beast. They’ve performed in front of big, baying crowds – they defeated hosts Canada in the 2015 World Cup, and earlier this year beat world champions the USA in New Jersey – and they seem to carry the mantle of favourites lightly, their history a spur, not a burden.
Remember, it takes grit as well as talent to get to the top of women’s football; a win for England tonight, and another in the final on Sunday, would be a fitting, deserved reward – not least because it could ease the way for the next generation of women on the pitch.
Coverage of England v Holland begins at 7:30pm on Channel 4 with kick-off at 7:45pm