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England women end nation’s 56-year soccer title drought with Euro win

England's Chloe Kelly, center, celebrates her goal with Lauren Hemp, left, and Jill Scott. (Rui Vieira/AP)

England ended more than a half-century of frustration with a 2-1 victory over Germany on Sunday in the final of the Women’s European Championship.

Chloe Kelly played the hero’s role for the Lionesses with a goal in extra time that proved to be the game-winner. England’s previous triumph in the final of a major international competition came in 1966, when the men’s team won the World Cup with a defeat of Germany in extra time.

A record crowd of 87,192 — the largest ever for a men’s or women’s match in the history of the Euro tournament — was in attendance at London’s Wembley Stadium to watch England complete its title quest on home turf.

“It’s the proudest moment of my life,” England captain Leah Williamson said, “so I’m going to lap it up and take every single second in. The legacy of this tournament and this team is a change in society. We’ve brought everyone together.”

England fans reacted to the country's first major women's soccer title on July 31. The Lionesses made history after beating Germany 2-1. (Video: Reuters)

The victory set off raucous celebrations not just on the field and in the stands but also in pubs and at watch parties across England. The home side’s quest attracted enormous interest in the soccer-mad nation, and the Lionesses did their part to bring the women’s game further into the spotlight.

“It shows that after all these years, women’s football is something to care about and something to scream about,” a 24-year-old fan, Becca Stewart, told the Associated Press. “We did it — the men couldn’t do it, but we did!”

Another fan, Mary Caine, who attended the game with her 8-year-old daughter, referred to the “It’s coming home” rallying cry that has marked recent tournament runs by the English men’s side.

England beat Germany 2-1 after extra time in the final of the Women's European Championship on July 31. (Video: Kathleen McNamee via Storyful)

“The girls finally brought football home,” Caine told the AP. “We’re delighted! It’s historic. It was magic in there and a breakthrough moment for women’s sport.”

After a scoreless first half, the Lionesses earned the first goal of the match when Ella Toone broke unmarked past Germany’s defense in the 62nd minute, fielded a long pass and chipped the ball over goalkeeper Merle Frohms. Germany brought the match back to level on a goal in the 79th minute by Lina Magull, who adroitly redirected a low cross into the six-yard box from teammate Tabea Wassmuth.

That led to a nerve-racking extra 30 minutes for a pair of squads that had given evidence during the match of the physical strain of their marches through the tournament.

England, in particular, has seen more than its share of heartbreak after full time on the international stage — most recently just over one year ago at Wembley, when the men’s team lost to Italy in a penalty kick shootout in the final of last summer’s European Championship.

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Kelly changed that narrative on a corner kick in the 110th minute. When the ball fell to the grass in the goal area, she boxed out a German defender and poked it into the net on her second swipe.

A 24-year-old who plays for Manchester City in the English Women’s Super League, Kelly used her goal celebration to channel Brandi Chastain. As with the American icon, who converted the tournament-winning penalty shootout attempt in the 1999 Women’s World Cup, Kelly whipped off her jersey in delight.

“I see you [Kelly,] well done,” Chastain wrote on Twitter. “Enjoy the free rounds of pints and dinners for the rest of your life from all of England. Cheers!”

As with the 22-year-old Toone, Kelly had been substituted into Sunday’s game after halftime. A torn knee ligament tear in a May 2021 club match had sidelined Kelly for nearly a year, and she acknowledged last month that she used the prospect of a chance to compete for the European title as motivation during her recovery.

“This is what dreams are made of,” Kelly said Sunday. “I always believed I’d be here but to score the winner — wow. These girls are special, and what a special group of staff.”

It was the first major international championship for the English women, who lost to Germany in the 2009 Euro final and to Sweden in the 1984 final.

Germany had emerged victorious in all eight of its previous appearances in the Euro final, most recently in 2013. The 2017 title was won by the Netherlands; the 2021 tournament was postponed a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Before Sunday’s match began, Germany suffered a blow when captain Alexandra Popp had to be scratched from the lineup. Popp, who scored two goals in the semifinal and was tied for the tournament lead with six overall, suffered what was described as “a muscular problem” during warmups and was replaced by Lea Schüller.

“We were close, but England withstood the pressure. Congratulations to them,” Germany Coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg said. “We are very sad that we lost. … Alexandra Popp would have triggered something against our opponents with her presence. But it just didn’t work out.”

Among those sending messages of congratulations to the Lionesses was Queen Elizabeth II, who said in a statement: “Your success goes far beyond the trophy you have so deservedly earned. You have all set an example that will be an inspiration for girls and women today, and for future generations. It is my hope that you will be as proud of the impact you have had on your sport as you are of the result today.”

“It’s such a privilege to be part of this,” England midfielder Jill Scott said. “The younger players have been fantastic — they play with freedom; they love the game of football. The celebrations are going to be big.”