Emma Hayes says this Women’s Super League title is the "toughest but sweetest" after being pushed all the way by Manchester City.

Hayes announced earlier this season that this would be her last in charge of the Blues and had written off their chances of lifting the trophy after a 4-3 defeat to Liverpool at the start of May.

However, an 8-0 victory over Bristol City followed by a 1-0 win from their game in hand over Tottenham put their fate back in their own hands going into the final day.

In the end, Chelsea won the WSL on goal difference, with another heavy 6-0 win adding to their advantage over City to help them to a fifth consecutive title.

Hayes took time after the match to reflect not only on the game but also on her 12-year stay at Chelsea.

"What a wonderful performance from the team today," she told Sky Sports. "I picked a team of leaders from the beginning, and I felt it was absolutely essential we had the emotional maturity and regulation for a stadium as fitting as this.

"We've lost a lot of players today so to have some of them back today, it was just an amazing performance.

"I can't say it's my most enjoyable [title] but it's definitely been the toughest, without doubt, and for that reason, probably the sweetest. I'm just so relieved it's over.

"I just haven't got any more to give, I know that. The hardest thing to do is five in a row, because people take their eye off the ball. My legacy is winning while building a team for the future.

"Everyone said girls can't play, nor can they fill stadiums, nor can they get paid, nor can they create history.

"Not only are we not going away, but we are going to fill them every week. Women's football now is a serious business and that for me, is what it's about."

Captain Millie Bright missed six months of the season due to a knee injury, but returned in April to help Chelsea during an important run-in.

"It was pretty special but when half the country writes you off... we've got the monster mentality, we've shown it season after season," she said after the game.

"We were given a second chance. They don't often, but you have to take them, and we did. We beat Bristol City, beat Tottenham, and we've come here and put on a five-star performance to take this title.

"It's extra special to get it for Emma [Hayes] and the players who are leaving us.

"That's our standards, we shouldn't be underestimated to make this sort of comeback because we're defending champions.

"It's been an emotional season for Emma especially. We picked her up [after the loss at Liverpool] like she does for us every day."

Millie Bright has been recalled to the England squad for the Lionesses' upcoming Euro 2025 qualifiers against France, Sweden and the Republic of Ireland.

Bright, who led her country to last year's World Cup final, is named in the 24-player party for the first time since October, having missed most of the season with a knee injury. 

The Chelsea defender is joined in Sarina Wiegman's squad by teammate Aggie Beever-Jones, who will hope to win her first cap after an impressive Women's Super League campaign in which she has scored 11 goals in 15 games.

The reigning European champions, who are second in their qualifying group and two points behind leaders France, play back-to-back games against the French on May 31 and June 4. They will then host the Irish on July 12, before heading to Sweden four days later. 

"After an intense season, we wanted to give the players clarity and help them to prepare in the best possible way, with the balance of performance and welfare as a priority," Wiegman said.

"We have had good conversations with the clubs, and we are grateful for their co-operation and support in helping the players to be fresh, fit and ready for two international matches at the highest level.

"The group is finely balanced and we know that every game is going to be tight, and we’ll need to be at our best."

Leah Williamson is part of the England squad for next month’s Euro 2025 qualifiers against Sweden and the Republic of Ireland.

The Arsenal defender returned to the international fold in February for the first time in nine months having recovered from an anterior cruciate ligament injury, but subsequently had to withdraw before friendlies against Austria and Italy due to a hamstring issue.

Chelsea’s Fran Kirby is also back, having missed the games in February after pulling up in the pre-Austria warm-up with a knee problem, while club mate Millie Bright remains out injured.

Maya Le Tissier misses out, with fellow Manchester United defender Millie Turner retaining her spot after being a late call-up in February, replacing Williamson, and making her debut against Italy.

Euro 2022 winners England open their bid to qualify for next summer’s tournament in Switzerland by facing Sweden at Wembley a week on Friday before continuing their Group A3 matches against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin four days later. The pool also features France.

Boss Sarina Wiegman, who saw her side beat Austria 7-2 and Italy 5-1 in last month’s games, said in a statement from the Football Association: “There’s no time to waste.

“February’s window showed who we are and where we want to go and we’ll look to continue that momentum from the minute we arrive at St. George’s Park next week.

“We know it’s a challenging group, but it’s really exciting. These are all big games that will test us and that’s the kind of fixtures we want to play in.

“Every opponent we face is a top nation and we know we have to perform at our best to achieve our goals. We’ll be ready for Sweden at Wembley.

“Wembley has been the home of some of our biggest moments together and it holds such special memories. It’s no coincidence that we feel inspired when we play there. The fans have provided such fantastic support every time and there’s no doubt they can help us again against Sweden.”

Leah Williamson is back in the England squad for the first time since recovering from injury.

The 26-year-old, who has won 46 caps and captained the Lionesses to Euro 2022 glory, suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury last April and missed the World Cup, but returned to action with Arsenal recently and gets the call-up from Sarina Wiegman.

Millie Bright and Bethany England are out injured while there is no room for Nikita Parris despite a good run of form for Manchester United.

Chelsea boss Emma Hayes said Lauren James’ mental health has been affected by the latest racist abuse she has received on social media.

James was booked in Chelsea’s 4-1 Women’s Super League defeat at Arsenal on Sunday after appearing to stamp on Lia Walti and was withdrawn by Hayes soon after.

Chelsea have condemned the online abuse, while Hayes compared the treatment of James to that received by David Beckham after his red card during the 1998 World Cup.

James was sent off in the World Cup last summer for stamping in England’s last-16 penalty shoot-out win against Nigeria and was handed a two-game ban.

Hayes, whose side face Hacken in a Champions League group game at Stamford Bridge on Thursday, said: “She’s not in a great place if I’m honest.

“I think when it starts from broadcasting and the way they speak about things, maybe they need to reflect on labelling players.

“She’s a young player. She made an error in the summer. Of course she has to keep learning those things.

“Of course every opponent tries everything possible to get Lauren red-carded. That’s been clear in every game we’ve played and she has to learn to handle that.

“When she gets antagonised in a certain way, managing emotions comes with maturity and that isn’t there yet with her.

“It reminds me very much of David Beckham in many ways when he got red-carded in the World Cup.

“I think the treatment of Lauren is sometimes very similar and I think we have to realise for a young person, in a day and age when social media is unbelievably vitriolic, some of the nasty language and labelling and name-calling goes over the edge.

“And if you add racism to that for her, you can understand why her mental health is not in a very good place this week.”

Hayes said other Women’s Super League players who had “had their own challenging moments” have not received the same criticism as James.

“I think it’s disgusting the amount of abuse she’s received from the public, from the media, you’re talking about a young player here, who no question is always working to learn in the background,” Hayes added.

“Some of the language I’ve seen used to vilify her certainly I think is unacceptable.

“I don’t see the same level of abuse attributed to other players in the league who might have had their own challenging moments.

“It’s fair to say that if I’m in her position I’d be thinking there is racial profiling going on.”

Chelsea, bidding to bounce back from Sunday’s first defeat of the season in all competitions, are still without injured pair Millie Bright and Jelena Cankovic, but Melanie Leupolz will return to the bench.

Swedish side Hacken are top of Group D after victories over Paris and Real Madrid in their first two matches.

Millie Turner is relishing being in the England fold again after a call-up she says was “quite unexpected”.

Manchester United defender Turner, whose previous Lionesses involvement came as part of a training camp in 2020 under Phil Neville, was called up by Sarina Wiegman last week as a replacement for the injured Millie Bright.

While it came as quite a surprise to the 27-year-old, it is something she says her father had told her he had “had a feeling” about.

Regarding the phone call she received from Wiegman, Turner told a press conference: “It was very exciting, and quite unexpected, to be fair.

“I remember I was sat at home and she rang me and I just tried to play it quite cool when she told me that she was calling me up, but after the phone call ended I was so buzzing.

“I rang my family, rang my Dad, and he said he was just so proud of me. It was a big moment for me and my family.

“I think my neighbours at the start were hating me because I was jumping around my house! But my Dad, I just remember him saying ‘Mill, I’m so proud of you’, and he said he had a feeling to be honest that I’d get called into this camp, so I think he’s been talking it into reality.

“For me, it’s all I’ve ever dreamed of, all I’ve ever hoped of – it’s just been such a big ambition for me to play for my country.”

Turner now has the possibility of making her senior international debut at Wembley.

England face the Netherlands at the national stadium on Friday in the first of their final two Nations League group games, with a clash against Scotland at Hampden Park following four days later.

Wilmslow-born Turner, who said she has around six family members coming down for the game on Friday, added: “(To make England bow at Wembley) would be incredibly special.

“Just to be part of this team is such a great honour and to be able to put that shirt on and even to play at Wembley would be incredible.”

European champions and World Cup runners-up England, third in Nations League Group A1, must beat leaders the Netherlands to stay in contention for top spot, the final position they need to have a chance to secure Paris 2024 Olympics qualification for Great Britain.

Turner said: “I think it’s going to be a massive game. But the Lionesses, we’re incredible, the way we have performed and come over every single barrier and come out of it really strongly. I think it’ll be a very good game to watch.

“The mentality never changes. We all fight and want to give absolutely everything that we can for our country – and I think it’s quite a good position to be in, because we’re ready to fight and ready to put on a performance.”

Millie Bright said it was “mind-blowing” that VAR was not used in England’s 2-1 Nations League defeat against the Netherlands.

Lieke Martens’ opener for the hosts would have been disallowed for offside if VAR had been in operation, as Danielle van de Donk took part in the build-up after returning from an offside position.

But VAR is not mandatory in the Nations League group stages – it is at the discretion of the host nation – and the Lionesses also had two goals struck off for offside, neither of which could be confirmed by VAR.

Speaking after the defeat England captain Bright, 30, was quoted on the BBC website as saying: “This is international football and we do not have VAR in a competitive international game, which is mind-blowing.

“There is no consistency. It is always frustrating (to not have VAR). We push the level of the game to be so high and professional, yet we sometimes have VAR, and sometimes we don’t and sometimes we have goalline technology.

“It is really unfortunate that these are still huge decisions that are incorrect. That’s where we as players have to keep speaking about it, we have to step up, and we have to demand better, and demand more.”

After Alessia Russo’s 64th-minute equaliser, England were then punished after losing possession in the 90th minute as Alex Greenwood gave the ball away and Martens fed substitute Renate Jansen, who rifled past Mary Earps.

England manager Sarina Wiegman also expressed her frustration at Netherlands’ first goal with Danielle van de Donk seemingly in an offside position before assisting Martens.

“When they scored their first goal, we didn’t do well, we didn’t play well, but it’s so obviously offside,” Weigman told ITV, following only the third defeat of her 41-game England tenure.

“That needs to be seen. I think the standards of the game are getting higher and higher, so (having VAR) would absolutely help. It’s just a little bit disappointing.

“(It is) absolutely a tough one to take and a very, very unnecessary one. The first half they were the better team.

“I think second half we totally dominated the game, and of course we scored one goal – but before that we got lots of huge opportunities, too. It’s just one moment that we don’t manage the game and in the counter-attack they score for 2-1. That’s very, very disappointing.”

The result leaves both England and Andries Jonker’s Netherlands on three points in Group A1. Belgium, who England face twice in October in their next group games, lead the pool with four points after drawing 1-1 with Scotland, who have one.

Wiegman’s side, 2-1 victors over Scotland in their opener last Friday, are attempting to secure a Paris 2024 Olympics qualification spot via this competition, and need to finish top of their group to have a chance to do so.

Captain Millie Bright is confident England will emerge a stronger side after processing the gut-wrenching reality of finishing as World Cup runners-up.

The Lionesses overcame obstacles and disproved doubters over the expanded month-long competition, which for the first time saw 32 teams whittled down to two, Spain and England, who were both making their debuts in the showpiece final.

Olga Carmona’s first-half strike in Sydney proved enough to send La Roja home with the trophy, while England were reminded that football can be a game of cruel inches after Lauren Hemp’s near-opener pinged off the crossbar.

Bright said: “The mentality has always been there. The character has been there, too. We show that, day in, day out, and in every game. We’ve just played in a World Cup final, it’s hard to see it like that at the moment. I’m proud of the girls.

“We’ve played on the highest stage. We’ve had a shot at competing for the trophy we have always wanted but this isn’t the end of the journey and we will definitely bounce back. For now, though, we’ll let it settle.”

While each of Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses will rue and process the loss differently, their skipper is the sole member of the squad for whom the morning after also happens to be a birthday.

Bright, who turns 30 today, inherited the captain’s armband before the World Cup from Euro 2022-winning skipper Leah Williamson, who was forced to miss the tournament after sustaining an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury in April.

Beth Mead, last summer’s Golden Boot winner, was also unavailable for selection after she was unable to recover in time from the same problem, while Chelsea midfielder Fran Kirby missed out with a separate knee issue.

Perhaps some inside the England camp are now wondering what might have been had those European champions been available, or perhaps not, but the only regrets Bright was willing to share after coming so close to bringing the World Cup home to England were the minor moments that made the difference. 

“There are probably one million different feelings,” said Bright. “Pride, disappointment, heartbroken that we didn’t win.

“We came off the pitch holding our heads high, knowing that we have given absolutely everything in the game. In the second half especially we left it all out there.

“We didn’t take our chances today and those are the small margins that decide football in a final against a top, top team.

“You get those chances and hit the crossbar, the keeper makes saves. They get theirs and put it in the net.”

Bright, whose club boss Emma Hayes was an ITV pundit for the World Cup, will soon return to Chelsea where she looks a shoo-in to replace departed captain Magda Eriksson.

But before the Blues kick-off their campaign in search of a fifth straight Women’s Super League (WSL) title against Tottenham on October 1, Bright and the Lionesses will face Scotland then the Netherlands in the new UEFA Women’s Nations League in late September.

That competition will decide which two European teams will join co-hosts France at the Paris Olympics, which begin in just 340 days.

Perhaps next year’s birthday will come accompanied with a fresh gold medal from those Games, but for now Bright is feeling grateful for the support that helped secure her World Cup silver.

She added: “It’s been incredible. It’s surreal. Thank you for believing in us. I hope you have enjoyed the ride. It’s been amazing. It’s hard to see it like that. It’s been incredible. We’ve had an opportunity and we’ve gained a medal that not many other players have got.”

England captain Millie Bright vowed the Lionesses are prepared to play the ‘game of their lives’ when they face Spain in their first World Cup final.

England could be crowned world champions for the first time since the men’s team triumphed in 1966, but on the eve of the monumental encounter the skipper’s focus was fully in the present.

And, while no one needs to explain the magnitude of the moment to the 29-year-old defender, she urged her team-mates to approach the most important match in their history no differently from any other.

Bright said: “I think for us we live in the moment, and yes it’s a World Cup final, but for us our mentality is it’s another game.

“I think our preparations don’t change no matter the stage in the tournament and to me that’s the key part of preparation.

“I want our players to prepare in any way they need to, like they normally do, and we’ve got a game plan that we have to go out and execute, but I think everyone knows how big this is.

“I think it’s been players’ dreams for years.

“We know how passionate our nation is back home and how much they want us to win. But for us, there is a process. We have a game plan to execute. We need to play the game of our lives.”

England boss Sarina Wiegman appointed Bright captain after Euro 2022-winning skipper Leah Williamson was ruled out with an anterior cruciate ligament injury ahead of the tournament.

Williamson will be in the stands on Sunday when the Lionesses walk out at the 75,000-plus seat Stadium Australia, led by Chelsea’s Bright, who insisted she would be thinking more about the squad than the symbol on her sleeve.

She said: “It’s massive, but it’s massive for the team. I think it’s always ‘we before me’ for me.

“I’ve always said, no matter whether I’ve got the armband or not, it’s a huge privilege and honour and I think it will be the biggest moment in our careers.”

England boss Sarina Wiegman has already become the first manager to lead two sides to the World Cup final after accomplishing the same feat with the Netherlands four years ago.

The enormously popular Dutchwoman also has two European championship trophies with those countries, but so far football’s most coveted title eludes her.

She said: “Playing a final is really special. I know that. I never take anything for granted.

“Playing in another is really special, but we’re just preparing for the game. Yes, it is a final, but we don’t do anything different than we do normally.

“When you go so far in the tournament people get more and more excited and that’s what you see.”

Tomorrow Wiegman faces the dilemma of whether to start forward Lauren James, who scored three times and picked up the same number of assists before she was sent off in England’s last-16 clash with Nigeria for stepping on the back of defender Michele Alozie and hit with a two-game suspension.

Replacement Ella Toone scored in England’s 3-1 semi-final victory against Australia, but serial winner Wiegman, who feels the available-again James has been sufficiently punished, could still be tempted to make a swap for the prodigious Chelsea talent.

She said: “Of course she really regretted that moment straight away. She apologised, she was punished for that and we all know this should not happen in football.

“She started training again and we supported her, because sometimes when you’re not that experienced at this level some fatigue comes in the game and you have just a split second where you lose your emotions.

“That’s a mistake, that’s a hard learning lesson, but now she’s ready to play in the game.”

Captain Millie Bright insists England have already moved on from learning they would lose Lauren James for at least Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final after the forward was sent off late in the last-16 victory over Nigeria.

The 21-year-old was shown a red after stepping on the back of defender Michelle Alozie, resulting in an automatic one-match ban that could be extended to three games by FIFA’s disciplinary committee, meaning her tournament could be over.

If there is one team-mate who truly appreciates what James is feeling it is Bright, who four years ago in France became the first player in Lionesses history to be sent off in a World Cup knockout encounter when she was dismissed for a second bookable offence in the semi-final against the United States.

“I think it is really important that we look after each other,” Bright said. “I have been through that. I know exactly how that feels.

“I think it is important that she has her space and lets her emotions settle. But it’s done now, we move on. We are through.

“It’s football. Listen, I have had red cards. Everyone goes through it as a player, everyone goes through it on the world stage. But for me, it’s not a situation that needs too much light shining on it.

“It’s happened. It’s in the past. We are through. All that matters is we come together as a group, we have each others’ backs, and it is just another challenge in football that the player has to face.

“But we have got her back completely and we will get ready for the next game.”

England will face Colombia in Saturday’s quarter-final after the world number 25 side beat Jamaica 1-0 on Tuesday to reach the last eight for the first time in their history.

The Lionesses were boosted by the return of Keira Walsh against Nigeria – a comeback from a knee injury few imagined possible after she was removed from the pitch on a stretcher in the first half of England’s second group match, a 1-0 triumph over Denmark.

Scans revealed the issue was not as serious as first suspected and Walsh managed 120 minutes against Nigeria, including the nervy 30 minutes of 10-woman extra time to force penalties, the result sealed 4-2 for England by Chloe Kelly’s emphatic spot-kick.

Though boss Sarina Wiegman’s switch to a 3-5-2 formation in Walsh’s absence seemed to spark the Lionesses into life in their 6-1 group-stage victory over China, her side did not play as well against Nigeria with three at the back, and in fact looked more controlled when they were short-handed.

Bright said: “Many asked, ‘Was that hard out there?’ Of course it’s hard, it’s a knockout game in a World Cup, and we knew that these games were going to be extremely tough coming into this tournament.

“But again, I have said it from day one, our character, our mentality, our resilience to give absolutely everything to the badge and to represent out fans at home, and ultimately find a way to win… we did that again.”

And while she agreed England ultimately were not at their best against Nigeria, Bright added: “To be honest, I don’t think we really care. We are through to the next round. Tournament football is about getting the job done.

“Of course, we all want to be better. We all want to play the perfect performance and be able to come to these interviews and say how fancy we looked.

“But ultimately, I am just bothered if we get through. We are prepared for any opponent, any challenge, that we face.”

Lionesses captain Millie Bright is proud to be carrying on the legacy of “fearless” ex-England skipper John Terry as she leads the European champions in the World Cup.

Bright vice-captained Sarina Wiegman’s side last summer and for this tournament inherited the armband from Leah Williamson, who was ruled out after sustaining an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury in April.

The Blues defender herself underwent a “brutal” rehabilitation process from a March knee injury to ensure she would be fit to fight for England’s first global title in co-hosting Australia, where they are next set to face Nigeria in the last 16.

She said: “JT was a big one for me. I think the way he carried himself and he always stepped out on the pitch fearless and stepped up.

“Every team that he’s played in I think he’s done that and he’s led by example, his actions have spoken louder than his words. For me that’s definitely something I believe in as well.

“Off the pitch I think he’s a great human, he’s very caring. I know a lot from a personal level that he’s always given a lot to the women’s team. On the pitch, without a shadow of a doubt.”

Bright could soon follow in another of Terry’s footsteps, with the Blues captaincy now vacant following the departure of Magda Eriksson, who completed a move to Bayern Munich at the conclusion of the last Women’s Super League (WSL) campaign after just shy of six years with Chelsea.

The 29-year-old will likely bump into Terry more often next season after the 42-year-old five-time Premier League champion last month announced he would be returning to Chelsea for a role in the club’s academy.

Chelsea women’s boss Emma Hayes is such a Stamford Bridge stalwart that she has now seen 12 different men’s managers pass through the doors – Frank Lampard twice – during her tenure, and was in her post for nearly five years of  Terry’s playing career in west London.

The 2021 FIFA women’s coach of the year and six-time WSL Manager of the Season is “a great mentor” to Bright, helping her deal with “the hard moments of the game and what are your traits. Then it’s just habits, training yourself. I always have three aims, no matter what I stick to them.

“I think it comes with age and experience over the years, finding out how you are as a person on and off the pitch”.

Hayes, said Bright, has also reinforced the habit of thinking that “when the going gets tough (you) keep the belief, keep the calmness, and always find a way to win.”

England’s knockout stage path to a first World Cup final begins tomorrow against Nigeria, 36 places below them in FIFA’s global rankings but bolstered after ousting a top-10 side in Olympic champions Canada to reach the last 16.

The narrow margin of the Lionesses’ 1-0 victories over Haiti and Denmark to open this campaign drew criticism from some corners, while their 6-1 victory over China to conclude the group stage went some way in subduing sceptics.

Bright insists she has not been privy to criticism inside the England “bubble”, where she has deliberately avoided social media, but sends “level-headed” partner Levi Crew a list of her three personal aims before each match.

She said: “Nothing gets in and nothing gets out. It’s football, everyone’s going to have an opinion, but the only ones that are going to matter are the ones that are within our team, our squad, staff, and players.”

When it comes to the sometimes difficult conversations that do matter, Bright revealed that her armband hardly comes into play, with Wiegman instilling an open approach devoid of hierarchy.

Bright added: “Everyone is equal within our team, I think sometimes it’s seen as the captain has to say the orders, it’s not like that at all.

“I think it’s taken us a while to get to that place over the years. I think that’s something Sarina’s brought in, we need those conversations.

“It’s how you get better and how you develop. It’s all part of growth, it’s not to attack anyone or ‘you’re crap,’ whatever, it’s about how we get the best out of each other and be the best in the world.”

Millie Bright has called for work to be done with regard to scheduling in the women’s game, stressing players are “not robots”.

Bright – captain of the England squad flying out for this summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand on Wednesday after regular skipper Leah Williamson was ruled out by an ACL injury, and recovering from a knee issue herself – says burnout is “always in the back of your mind” as a player.

The 66-cap Chelsea centre-back, who helped England win the Euros last summer and played for Great Britain at the Olympics the summer before that, said: “It’s tough.

“I’ve been doing it for several years now. Playing back-to-back tournaments, it’s hard, when you’re playing every single minute for your clubs.

“That’s the demands of the game now, especially with how competitive it is getting. The quality has gone through the roof and the games are getting harder to win, especially when you’re competing for every trophy.

“I still think there’s work to be done in terms of scheduling, making sure we can compete in every competition and do back-to-back tournaments, but also we are not robots, we need time to recover.

“We want to perform, to be at the highest level. For me, I think the scheduling of everything needs to be looked at so we can keep the quality at the highest it can possibly be.

“As a player, it is always in the back of your mind.”

Injuries have been a major talking point of late in women’s football, with a particular focus on the amount of players suffering ACL damage – something that has left England heading into this summer’s tournament without not only Williamson but also Beth Mead, her Arsenal team-mate who was the Euro 2022 Golden Boot winner.

Asked if more research was needed, Bright said: “I think there always needs to be more done.

“We obviously know the (female) body is very different to the male, so the research needs to be done in that sense.

“For me, it’s more than just one factor, it’s everything that comes with it, whether it’s facilities, pitches, the amount of games we are playing, the amount of rest we’re having. It’s everything together, and I think all elements need to align.

“We want to be performing at the highest level but we can only do that if we are fully recovered. If you play under a lot of fatigue then you are bound to be picking up injuries. It’s just impossible to keep going.

“We don’t want to see this amount of injuries. I guess it will be a topic where the conversation will never die really until we see change and something done.”

Bright has not played in a match since sustaining a knee injury while in action for Chelsea in March, after which she underwent surgery.

While she was not involved in the 0-0 World Cup warm-up draw against Portugal in Milton Keynes on Saturday, she has expressed her confidence that she will be ready for the Lionesses’ Group D opener against Haiti on July 22.

The 29-year-old, who was “absolutely gutted” for Williamson after she got injured in April and has had “check-ins” with her, said of the prospect of captaining her country at this summer’s showpiece: “It’s a proud moment to even be going to a World Cup.

“I feel really grateful to be selected to go, let alone to be put in a position to captain the girls. It is a massive honour.

“But for me, nothing changes – I stay the same. I’d like to think everyone says they see the same Millie every day, no matter. I always think with or without the armband I lead for the team, I think that’s just natural to me.”

On the chances of Sarina Wiegman’s team adding to their Euro glory Down Under, Bright said: “For us it’s making sure we keep two feet on the ground, which I think we’ve always done, and know the challenge ahead will be even harder than any other tournament.

We will be prepared and ready to fight for the badge.”

Millie Bright has expressed her confidence that she will be ready for England’s World Cup opener as she continues her recovery from knee surgery.

The defender, captain of the squad heading to the tournament in Australia and New Zealand in the absence of ACL injury victim Leah Williamson, underwent an operation after limping out of a Chelsea match in March.

While Bright expects Saturday’s World Cup warm-up game against Portugal in Milton Keynes will come too soon for a return to action, she is feeling positive about the Lionesses’ opening Group D fixture against Haiti in Brisbane on July 22.

The 29-year-old, who has been doing individual work during the squad’s camp at St George’s Park, said: “The knee’s really good.

“I think we are a little bit ahead (of schedule) actually. Coming into it, there’s a big chunk of time before the first game, so we’re really confident and everything is going exactly the way we wanted it to go.

“I think Saturday will be a little bit too soon. I’m not back with the girls yet and I don’t think we want to rush that. Obviously, we have a lot of time until the first game.”

Asked if she thought there was any danger of her being undercooked, Bright said: “No, not at all.

“I think the amount of minutes I’ve played leading up to this has been ridiculous, through the roof, so if anything I feel mentally and physically fresher than I’ve ever felt.

“I can’t remember the last time I had longer than two weeks off. It’s been a fair few years now. A blessing in disguise I call it, that I’ve mentally and physically been able to completely just have a clean slate and let my body recover. I’ve played through many injuries but this one, I just couldn’t quite get there.”

There had been concern for Alex Greenwood after she went down with an injury during Tuesday’s training session, but the Manchester City defender has said she “will be OK”, adding: “(It is) on the shin. It’s sore, but it’s football. It was a tackle, part of the game.”

Meanwhile, Aston Villa midfielder Lucy Staniforth has been added to England’s standby list in place of forward Jess Park, who is returning to Manchester City for rehabilitation on a shoulder injury.

Staniforth joins Maya Le Tissier on standby and both will remain with Sarina Wiegman’s 23-player squad until the Haiti match, with the European champions set to fly to Australia next Wednesday.

Staniforth said: “I looked at my phone and saw it was Sarina and I was thinking ‘what’s going on?’

“I kind of thought once the first week (of England’s pre-World Cup camp, which started on June 19) was out of the way, if there was any chance of getting brought in, it would be then. I was surprised obviously.

“I got her to repeat the whole tournament schedule again for me about three or four times because I just kept saying ‘sorry, when are we travelling?’ I just hadn’t followed it because I wasn’t involved. I was so out of the loop. I was buzzing. I wanted to get in the car quick and get straight down there.

“I was supposed to go to Ibiza with my mum on Monday which is obviously very unfortunate. My mum was buzzing for me and of course wanted me to go. She wasn’t bothered about Ibiza. She will still go on her own. If anyone sees someone on their own in Ibiza, she’s looking for a bit of company!”

It is a major tournament held in England where the hosts are looking to end a long wait without silverware, but Germany stand in their way.

This feels awfully familiar.

Sarina Wiegman's Lionesses have captured the hearts of a nation, with fans flocking to watch them reach their first major tournament final since 2009 where they lost to *checks notes* Germany.

Meanwhile, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg's side have advanced to the final comparatively under the radar, with Die Nationalelf picking up impressive scalps of their own along the way.

It promises to be a fascinating contest at Wembley Stadium in front of what is expected to be a record crowd for any European Championship game - men's or women's - on Sunday.

A huge 90 minutes, maybe more, awaits the two teams, but where will it be won and lost? Stats Perform takes a look at the finer details ahead of the Euro 2022 final.

Raise a glass to Mead and Popp and drink it in

While teams win tournaments, we always look to those individuals who we will remember in years to come for their performances.

Undoubtedly two of the standout players in England during the last three weeks have been Beth Mead and Alexandra Popp, current joint-top scorers with six goals each.

The Lionesses have not found it difficult to score goals, finding the net 20 times in five games in the tournament so far. In fact, only Germany in 2009 have ever scored more at a Women's Euros (21).

Mead's goal in the opening 1-0 win against Austria at Old Trafford was vital for getting their campaign rolling, before she grabbed a hat-trick in the 8-0 thrashing of Norway, another in the 5-0 win against Northern Ireland, and the opener in the 4-0 semi-final humbling of Sweden.

While Germany have not been quite as proficient – still scoring a respectable 13 goals – Popp's contributions had initially come when adding to leads, with the captain's goals against Denmark, Spain, Finland and Austria all arriving when her team were already ahead.

However, she came into her own in the last-four clash with France, scoring both goals in the 2-1 win, including a dominant header to win it with 14 minutes remaining.

Having scored in all five of Germany's games so far, a goal at Wembley would see Popp become just the second player to score in every match from the group stages to the final at a single edition of a European Championship (men's and women's), after Michel Platini for France in 1984.

Whichever one raises their game for the final could ultimately provide the deciding factor. In the case of Popp, it could well be that she has to score herself to make a difference, as she has not yet recorded an assist in the tournament, whereas Mead has four assists to her name, more than anyone else.

The strongest spine could be the key

They say a good attack wins games while a good defence wins trophies. So far, both of these teams have been effective at each end of the pitch.

England's only goal conceded in five games came when they went 1-0 down to Spain in the quarter-finals, before coming back to win 2-1 in extra time, while Germany's one against was an own goal in their semi-final against France.

An opposition player is yet to find a way past Germany, and it is not hard to see why. Kathrin-Julia Hendrich and Marina Hegering have been a steely combination at the back for Voss-Tecklenburg's team, with Hegering making 41 ball recoveries in her five games, the joint seventh most among outfield players in the tournament.

Germany youngster Lena Oberdorf has had an outstanding tournament in midfield and has 44 ball recoveries to her name.

That is the same number as England captain Leah Williamson, a player who leads by example at centre-back alongside Millie Bright, who has managed a team-high 21 clearances.

Both centre-back pairings have had plenty of help in front of them, with 20-year-old Oberdorf attempting more tackles (19) than any other player from the two finalists, while England's Keira Walsh has recovered the ball 36 times and has the best passing accuracy of any player to have attempted at least 250 passes (89.56 per cent).

Midfield could be a key area for England, who as a team have attempted 2,597 passes overall with an accuracy of 83.4 per cent, both ranked second across the tournament, while Germany have attempted 2,222 passes (ranked fourth) with an accuracy of 77 per cent (ranked seventh).

England's Germany hoodoo

It is not exclusive to the women's game, but England have an unflattering record against Germany, especially in major tournaments.

The Lionesses have won just two of their 27 meetings with Germany in all competitions, and have lost more often against them than any other opponent (D4 L21), though they did win their last meeting 3-1 in February.

Germany have won all four of their matches against England at Women's Euros by an aggregate score of 15-4. This will be the first meeting between the sides at the tournament since the 2009 final, which Germany won 6-2.

That was the last time England reached a Women's Euros final, having also lost to Sweden in 1984, while this will be Germany's ninth appearance in a final, meaning they have appeared in 69 per cent of Women's Euros title matches. They have triumphed on all eight of their previous appearances in finals so far.

You could therefore be forgiven for thinking that too much history is on the Germans' side for England to stand a chance, but the tournament hosts have a not-so-secret weapon.

Wiegman will be the first manager to have led two different nations in Women's Euros finals, having won the 2017 tournament with the Netherlands, and her overall record in the competition shows 11 wins from 11 games, with her teams having scored 33 goals and conceded just four.

Whatever happens on Sunday, it is sure to be quite a spectacle. Will football finally come "home", or will Germany repeat history and add to their own outstanding legacy?

England captain Leah Williamson and fellow centre-back Millie Bright face the most demanding test of their careers when they face Germany's Alexandra Popp in Sunday's Euro 2022 final.

That is the view of former Lionesses skipper Faye White, who says England should "see themselves as equals" with the eight-time European champions but is wary of the threat posed by Germany's goal-hungry captain.

"I don't worry as much as I would have certainly a few years ago or in the past," White told Stats Perform.

White captained England in the Euro 2009 final, where hopes of a first European title were dashed as Germany dished out a 6-2 victory hammering in Helsinki.

Prolific striker Birgit Prinz scored twice that day for Germany, and White said Popp presents "exactly the same" threat, with the Wolfsburg star having joined England's Beth Mead on six goals in the battle for the Golden Boot.

Popp's double against France led Germany to a 2-1 semi-final victory, teeing up the shot at hosts England, whose 4-0 demolition of Sweden underlined their threat.

White said what impressed her most about Popp, who is coming off a long knee injury lay-off, was "that clinicalness... that desire we could see with both her goals".

The first was a volley on the stretch, and the second a bullet header after finding a yard of space that left White "speechless".

"That is what she has and that's why I think it's a massive game for our two centre-halves," White said.

White's view is that when it comes to powerful strikers, Germany "just breed them", with 31-year-old Popp the latest in a long line.

If England are to set aside a record of two wins from 27 past meetings with Germany, then keeping Popp quiet will surely be essential.

"Millie and Leah have to win the battle basically. And it's the biggest game of their lives. Trust me," White said.

England have had many special moments in the tournament, with an 8-0 thrashing of Norway in the group stage, the extra-time victory over Spain in the quarter-finals and Tuesday's demolition job on Sweden capturing the imagination.

Germany have perhaps had fewer similarly exhilarating results, but they have been impressively solid, leading White to state that "everyone just has to have a big game" if England are to lift the trophy at Wembley.

She says England are "in a mindset where they will relish it rather than be squashed by that", adding: "We are in the best place we will ever be to be able to do it and beat them. I just keep thinking, please make this time be the time we get one over on Germany."

England have been semi-finalists at the past two World Cups and also reached that stage at Euro 2017, which is why White considers this generation so different to her own.

"In my time when we played in 2009, it was a completely different gulf between the two teams that matched up in that final," she said. "The mindset of these current players is that they won't fear the Germans like we did. We know the history, but it's not history of recent times as the Germans haven't got to the latter stages of tournaments as England have recently."

The goals of the likes of Mead and Alessia Russo have been crucial, but it has been Sarina Wiegman's influence as England's manager that has most impressed White.

Wiegman, who led the Netherlands to European glory five years ago, only joined up with England in 2021 but has made a tremendous impact.

White said Wiegman has been "the key", adding: "I've always felt that the last bit of the puzzle was the manager who's won something.

"Because when you're in the changing room, and you're going through all the tactics, knowing that that coach has won something, I just think that's invaluable."

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