Here we are, then: the 2022 Women's European Championship is about to reach its pinnacle and you can only be excited by what you are about to watch.
It is not often that the best four teams -- in this case, England, Sweden, Germany and France -- make the last four together in a major tournament. Often you have surprises, disappointments, overachievers, minnows and so on. Not this time. This time, we have what we've all been waiting for since the tournament draw was made: the four group winners facing each other in a dream pair of semifinals which will lead to a marquee final, regardless of who makes it to Wembley on July 31.
But let's not get too carried away. Let's first enjoy our two main dishes before our dessert: England vs. Sweden on Tuesday (LIVE 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2, ESPN+) and France vs. Germany on Wednesday (LIVE 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2, ESPN+). The four best teams in Europe and the four best teams in this tournament without a doubt.
Imagine the Wimbledon semifinals with Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray at their best. Imagine the last NCCA March Madness Final Four with the four top seeds Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke and Villanova. Imagine two laps to go in a Formula 1 Grand Prix with Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso all still racing for the checkered flag. This is what we are talking about here. Football excellence, the game at its best, with the season's biggest prize at stake.
And the narratives are all perfect as well. The drama, the excitement and the storylines are there for us to enjoy. England, on home soil, getting closer, finally, to a first major triumph since the 1966 men's World Cup. Sweden, the best losing side of the 21st century, always in the last four but never winners. Germany, eight-times winners of this tournament, trying to get back to winning ways with some old heads and a talented new generation. And France, finally breaking the curse of the last eight. It is hard to predict. It is full of quality. It is exciting to look forward to.
The fact that England are there with the best group of players and the best manager they have ever had as well as an incredible home support means that anything less than reaching this stage would have been a failure. Now, it is their biggest test in a very long time because they are in position where they could, and should, beat Sweden.
The Scandinavians want Euro 2022 to finally be the one when they come home with the trophy after, just to name the more recent heartbreaks, losing back-to-back finals at the last two Olympics and a World Cup semifinal in 2019. Peter Gerhardsson has done an amazing job since he took over as coach in 2017; now he just needs that final push.
For Germany, it is finally a return to the big time. Since their Olympic gold medal at Rio in 2016, they failed in 2017 and in 2019. Now is their chance, with an incredible front three of Alexandra Popp, Klara Buhl and Svenja Huth.
And then, there is France. After five consecutive tournaments where their campaign ended in the quarterfinals, they have finally taken that next step. Now they will have the freedom for the talents of Delphine Cascarino and Kadidiatou Diani up front to take the handbrake off, and rely on the experience of Wendie Renard and Pauline Peyraud-Magnin at the back.
These four countries have provided us with the best stories of the tournament so far. There is redemption for Germany striker Popp, 31 years old and taking part in her first Euros after missing the last two through injury, who had not scored for her country for 972 days prior to this tournament. There is a miracle for Fran Kirby, the England forward, who not that long ago was not sure if she would ever be able to walk again, let alone play football, after suffering from pericarditis and then extreme fatigue. There has been grief for the France goalkeeper Peyraud-Magnin, who lost her ex-girlfriend to whom she was still very close just before the start of the tournament. And there has been perseverance for Caroline Seger, 37, the Sweden captain and most experienced player, who missed a penalty which could have won her country Olympic gold in Tokyo and is still here for this Euros, probably her last tournament.
These four teams and these two matches offer everything we need and everything we want. There will be talent, entertainment, experience, spectacle, speed, fun, passion. There will be goals, there will be tension, there will be drama. We can guarantee that it won't be boring or dull because all four teams like to play and to attack.
It is the perfect line-up at the perfect time, in the home of football with full stadiums and great atmospheres. We only have a couple more days to wait.