‘Home is where the heart is’: Leah Williamson insists England are focused

Leah Williamson says England’s focus is on completing their task after the Euro 2022 hosts secured a place in Sunday’s final. The England captain, who has played every game after just eight minutes of football at the 2019 World Cup, will lead the team out at Wembley in front of a sold-out crowd.

After goals from Beth Mead, Lucy Bronze, Alessia Russo and Fran Kirby enabled them to power to a 4-0 semi-final victory over Sweden at Bramall Lane, the Lionesses are in their first major tournament final since Euro 2009.

Germany or France will be the opponents as they look to get their hands on major silverware for the first time.

When asked about the development English women’s football has had and working towards a moment like Sunday, Williamson said: “We started a journey, and people have changed the game. That’s the likes of [former England captain] Carol Thomas, Jill Scott, Ellen White, who I looked at and was inspired by when I was younger.

“And now it is about doing our job on the pitch. That’s the most powerful thing, the biggest way we can contribute, and that is what we are focusing on.

“I know I have a job to do, but who says I can’t enjoy those moments and the team can’t enjoy those moments? That’s what I hope, that we are giving off that vibe. It’s genuine and the crowd can enjoy that with us. I hope that the crowd at Wembley is going to have as good a time as we are going to have, because I promise you, we will enjoy it.

“We’ve got some preparation to do, we don’t even know who we are playing yet. But for me, to walk out on to that pitch was an incredible feeling and I can imagine at the weekend that will be incredible as well.

“I’ve got a scarf around my neck which says: ‘Home is where the heart is’ and to have our families on this journey, to walk out at Wembley, I think that is something we really have to take in. I want to appreciate it for what it is, but I have got a job to do and that’ll be the most important thing.”

In a semi-final full of notable performances, Williamson singled out goalkeeper Mary Earps, who pulled off an important save after 20 seconds and another with the Lionesses 2-0 up.

“Mary made a save at a key moment of the game – which was an incredible turning point for us,” Williamson said of the latter save. “We then went up the other end and scored. That’s when you talk about a team, that’s what the team is about because at opposite ends of the pitch everybody is making it count.

“That moment deserves a shoutout. Everybody was absolutely incredible and delivered what they needed to deliver.”

Russo’s audacious backheel through the legs of the unsuspecting Hedvig Lindahl stole the show but the forward admitted that she “could have made it easier on myself” as she rued a missed effort moments before.

Running through her mind after the close-range effort had been saved by Sweden’s goalkeeper was one thing: “What’s the quickest route for me to get this ball in the back of the net?” Russo added: “To be honest, I missed the first one, we were actually working on cutbacks in training the other day. I should have scored in the first place, so I just swung a foot at it and luckily it hit the back of the net.”

Russo was well aware of the goal’s – England’s third – significance. “To score in a semi-final and progress to the final is a huge highlight of my career. I don’t normally score backheels and I don’t think you’ll see one again,” she said.

The importance of her goal was not lost on a global audience watching the game. The former USA World Cup winner Abby Wambach, who scored 184 goals in 255 games said: “I dreamt of scoring a goal like that my whole life. Never happened. Alessia Russo take a bow. Go on England.”

The Australia and Chelsea forward Sam Kerr, who won the golden boot in the WSL last season, said: “Not gonna lie, that was lit from Russo.”

Russo has shone in the role as a late substitute, scoring four times in England’s five games but is not bothered with being labelled a supersub. “I’ll take any time I get to play for England,” she said. “It’s been amazing. If that’s the role, I’ll take it for sure. Ellen [White] does a great job at wearing everyone out, as does the whole team, we’re up there in terms of physicality right now. Whenever the chance is there, I’ll take it.”

That Russo even attempted the backheel reflects her confidence in her current form. “When you’re enjoying your football you play your best,” she added.