It was definitely a shock. Shocked and amazed. People were more incredulous than anything else.
What Alessia Russo did in the 68th minute of Englandsemi-final victory against Sweden not only caused astonished looks among those in the stadium, it captured the attention of the nation and the world.
It wasn’t like that at first. England had their backs against the wall for the first 20 minutes. There was nerves, tension and near silence at times from the crowd at Bramall Lane. Sweden slammed into the woodwork, causing much of the South Yorkshire air to be inhaled by the 28,000 spectators in attendance.
But when Russo was brought on – the fifth game in a row that Sarina Wiegman called her on in the second half – it was already 2-0 against England. Within seconds, she was causing trouble for Sweden. A driving run and a perfect pass through the box set up Lauren Hemp, whose finish broke the crossbar.
England also had to weather a storm seconds later, when Stina Blackstenius fired a shot that goalkeeper Mary Earps managed to drive over the crossbar. The resulting corner led to a tame Swedish effort that Earps could sweep up and use to eat the clock. It was a moment that audibly relieved the crowd and gave England a breather.
Up to that point England had been unable to play their game – they had been rushed out of their patient approach – but what happened moments later was one of their quieter so far.
Earps tossed the ball up the field, and after a few feeble attempts to get the ball to the ground, Georgia Stanway played a hopeful ball to Hemp. He bounced off Swedish headers and Hemp managed to subdue him. She drove towards goal and fired a shot that deflected wide, only for the ball to be picked up by Lucy Bronze. She quickly returned the ball to the box but found no one. This time it was Rachel Daly’s turn to salvage and recycle. She returned the ball to Leah Williamson and England hit the reset button.
Williamson to Fran Kirby, Kirby to Hemp, Hemp to Kirby and vice versa. There was movement, patterns, precision. England were in their element. There were back and forths – not rushed, just relaxed. After several more passes, the ball made its way to Keira Walsh, the England puppeteer.
“Patience from England,” said BBC commentator Robyn Cowen. There was something brewing.
Walsh was on the edge of the box, looking for options, scanning the field. Kirby took his chance and drifted behind the Swedish defence, waiting for Walsh’s perfect pass which dutifully arrived.
Kirby sent the ball back across the box, where Russo was waiting. The Manchester United the striker hit the first shot but Hedvig Lindahl managed to save it with her feet.
Russo knew she had to come back for more, saying after the game, “I should have scored first.”
The ball rolled to the penalty area and Russo was the first to do so. Caroline Seger tried to win the ball back from Russo, but she bounced off the Sweden defender like she was a child, not a 37-year-old centre-back with over 200 caps for her country.
Seger used his experience to pull Russo away from goal, pushing her away and trying to stop her from turning around. But, without even looking, Russo sensed an opportunity.
“Once it came back to me, I was like, ‘Okay, what’s the quickest way to get it into the back of the net?'” Russo said after the game. “So I swung my foot over it and luckily it hit the back of the net.”
As if she were threading a needle rather than the back of her foot, she used her right heel to throw the ball between Lindahl’s legs and, in the space of a split second, nothing would ever be the same with the girls. English women. football again.
It was a WWE knockout, with the Big Show jumping off the rope and knocking the clothesline off. It was a three-pointer from Steph Curry from the corner. It was done, it was over. Russo had disrespected the best in the world and that was unforgettable.
Wiegman reflected afterwards that Russo must have had “so much courage to do such an unpredictable and phenomenal thing like this”.
That’s what this whole team has – the courage and confidence to try anything and the belief that they can achieve the unthinkable on the biggest stage.
“I don’t normally mark heels and I don’t think you’ll ever see them again, but I’ll take it for now. U.S. too.