Leeds, England, June 24th 2022 England players celebrate a goal during the womens International Friendly, Länderspiel, Nationalmannschaft EURO 2022 warm up between England and the Netherlands at Elland Road in Leeds, England. Richard Callis/SPP PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxBRA Copyright: xRichardxCallis/SPPx RICHARD CALLIS_SPORTS PRESS PHOTO_165014

Ramona Petzelberger is not necessarily one of the biggest stars in German football. The 29-year-old has not yet played an international match and is not part of the German squad for the European Championship this summer. But her face is now familiar to everyone in Great Britain who has last watched BBC television.

Petzelberger, who has played for Aston Villa in England’s Women’s Super League (WSL) for the past two years, is one of several players to appear in a recent ubiquitous British broadcaster’s commercial for the upcoming European Football Championship. “We know our place” is the slogan. A tongue-in-cheek reprimand for the previously latent sexism that has accompanied women’s football on the island for years.

This should now slowly be over – and especially this summer. On Wednesday evening, hosts England will play the opening game of the European Championship against Austria (9 p.m., live on ARD). The English women not only play for the best possible start to the home tournament, but also for the continuation of a recent rapid development in English women’s football.

“If this team can win a major title at home it will change everything for both the players and the sport,” former international Karen Carney wrote in the Guardian ahead of the tournament. The former goalscorer is hoping for a similar turning point in 2022 as when England last hosted the EURO in 2005. Back then, as a 17-year-old, Carney scored an injury-time winner in the first group game, setting a historic moment in English football history.

Seventeen years later, the opening game is back in Manchester, but instead of a half-full City of Manchester Stadium, the game is now played in front of over 70,000 spectators at the iconic Old Trafford. Because in the meantime, English women’s football has received an incredible boost.

The league has become completely professional, ratings keep reaching new records, and a long-overdue cultural change is also taking place in journalism. Almost every major English newspaper is now reporting in detail about the WSL, and the BBC is broadcasting almost all games live on free TV at this European Championship.

Not everything is perfect, however. At this European Championship, too, the organizers had to put up with the accusation that women’s football was sold smaller than it actually is. Above all, the decision for smaller venues was sharply criticized. Big arenas like Old Trafford and Wembley have been sold out for months and yet other games at this tournament are played in stadiums with under 15,000 seats.

Some critics spoke of a “lack of ambition”. The Iceland international Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir even spoke of “a step backwards”.

But despite the criticism, anticipation for this European Championship prevails in England – and above all for a possible title win. Because under the new coach Sarina Wiegman, England is one of the top favourites. The Dutchwoman, who won the European Championship title with the host team in her own country in 2017, brought new calm to the English camp after taking office last summer, which was urgently needed after the scandals of recent years.

In 2017, the then national coach Mark Sampson was fired after allegations of racism. Despite his success, his successor Phil Neville was also controversial, partly because he had to apologize for sexist tweets as soon as he took office. At Wiegman, on the other hand, football is in the foreground and things are going extremely well there.

Under the 52-year-old, the “Lionesses” have been unbeaten in fourteen games, with big wins against Switzerland and the Netherlands in preparation. “Wiegman stands for progress,” wrote the Daily Mail recently, and praised the trainer for her pragmatism and callousness.

She also showed those virtues when she was nominated for the squad, above all with the surprising renunciation of legionnaire Steph Houghton and the promotion of the relatively inexperienced Leah Williamson to captain. The result is a well-balanced side with well-known names like Lucy Bronze and Ellen White, but also young talent like Manchester City’s Lauren Hemp.

There is no lack of international experience either: Bronze plays in Barcelona, ​​Rachel Daly at Houston Dash, and Georgia Stanway switched to FC Bayern Munich a few weeks ago.

Before the start of the tournament, however, those responsible are primarily trying to dampen expectations. “We’re in very good shape right now, but we can always improve,” said Wiegman recently. While the defense is considered reliable even without Houghton, there are still question marks in attack, where star player Fran Kirby has been fighting for her fitness for months.

Nevertheless, optimism prevails. Because even if it’s not enough for the big title, this summer should be another quantum leap forward. “It is a very exciting and important time for women’s football,” wrote BBC pundit and former international Alex Scott last Friday. “And it’s only going to get bigger and better.”