The 2017 Women's Euro has been a huge success on and off the pitch. As the semifinals approach, the tournament gears up towards a record-breaking finish. But who will be left standing at the end of it all?
It seems like English football has struggled for confidence ever since the morning after the 1966 World Cup victory, but in 2017, England's women are creating a sense of belief around a team that feels new.
"The really cool thing is that people have been talking about this England team as potential winners," head coach Mark Sampson told the British Broadcasting Corporation this week. "We're very proud of the fact that some of the English public believe this team can go on and win a major championship."
Rightfully so. England's women have had an awesome campaign, winning every game, scoring 11 goals while conceding just one.
"It has probably been a long time since there has been a genuine belief that an England team can go on and win a major championship. So we take immense pride from that and a huge sense of confidence," Sampson added.
The English women beat their French counterparts for the first time in 43 years to reach the semifinals, but will have to progress without goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, who has been ruled out of the rest of the tournament with a broken leg. Many eyes will turn to star striker Jodie Taylor, who is only the third English footballer ever to score a hat trick at a major tournament and already has five goals at the 2017 Euros.
In England's way stand a Netherlands side who probably consider themselves equal favorites at the tournament that they are hosting. Not that the Dutch need a reason to dress in orange on mass, but women's football has taken the nation by storm. The country very much "loves Oranje", as can be heard around the grounds when the Netherlands play. A total of 27,000 are expected to attend the semifinal, which would shatter the previous record for a women's football match in the Netherlands (21,732 at the opener, between the Netherlands and Norway), and the home crowd will be hoping to see the Netherlands win their fifth consecutive game at the tournament.
The match-up is a repeat of the 2009 semifinal, which England won after extra time. But the Dutch are a different team to back then and have an impressive number of players who have excelled at the tournament. Like Mertens has been outstanding, Shanice van de Sanden has been a constant problem for defenders and goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal has played a huge role in the Dutch success.
Surprise opponent in the final?
Whoever makes the final will face either a Denmark team bouncing after knocking out the defending champions Germany, or debutants Austria who still have a few chapters to add to their fairytale. The Austrians are in fact the first debutants to reach the final four since 2009 and neither they nor the Danes have made it to a Euro final before.