Just when it seemed England might again be weighed down by expectations and history, Chloe Kelly made the breakthrough.
Kelly's goal in the second half of extra time — the first time she had ever scored in a competitive international game — propelled England to its first major women's soccer title on Sunday, beating Germany 2-1.
By the time Kelly scored, England looked to be tiring, even with the boost of the home crowd, and struggling to deal with Germany's fresh substitute players. The game had finished 1-1 after 90 minutes at Wembley Stadium with Lina Magull for Germany canceling out Ella Toone's goal for England.
Then Kelly prodded in a loose ball at the second attempt in the 110th minute after Germany failed to clear a corner. Cue the celebrations, chants on Trafalgar Square, and congratulations from the queen.
“I always believed I’d be here, but to be here and score the winner, wow. These girls are amazing,” said Kelly, who returned from a serious knee injury in April. “This is amazing, I just want to celebrate now.”
Kelly took her shirt off to celebrate her goal, earning a yellow card but also a shout-out from Brandi Chastain, who celebrated in similar style when her penalty kick won the World Cup for the U.S. in 1999. “Enjoy the free rounds of pints and dinners for the rest of your life from all of England. Cheers!” Chastain wrote on Twitter.
After the final whistle, the England players danced and the crowd sang their anthem “Sweet Caroline.” The good-natured atmosphere inside the stadium Sunday drew contrasts with the violent scenes when the England men’s team lost its European Championship final to Italy at the same stadium a year ago.
The tournament-record crowd of more than 87,000 underlined the growth of women’s soccer in Europe since the last time England and Germany played for a continental title 13 years ago.
On that occasion, Germany surged to a 6-2 win over an England team which still relied on part-time players. Two years later, England launched its Women’s Super League, which has professionalized the game and grown into one of the main competitions worldwide.
That has meant increasing competition for Germany, which was a pioneering nation in European women’s soccer and increasingly faces well-funded rivals like England, Spain and France.
England's title comes 56 years after the nation's only major men's title which was also an extra-time win at Wembley over Germany at the 1966 World Cup. Queen Elizabeth II's congratulatory message called the England team an “inspiration for girls and women today, and for future generations."
The players, too, are conscious of how their success has important consequences.
“We talked and talked and finally we did it," England captain Leah Williamson said. "It’s the proudest moment of my life 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.”
On Sunday, Germany was without captain Alexandra Popp — the team’s leading scorer with six goals — after she reported a muscle problem in the warmup. She was replaced in the lineup by Schüller while Svenja Huth took over as captain.
The game was goalless after a physical first half in which Ellen White shot narrowly over the bar for England, while Marina Hegering nearly forced the ball in for Germany at a corner before Williamson and Earps intervened.
Either team could have had a penalty in the opening half, first when the ball seemed to touch Williamson’s arm as she cleared, and later when Hegering dived to clear the ball and collided with Lucy Bronze.
Ella Toone latched onto a long pass from Keira Walsh to get in behind the German defense in the 62nd minute and cleverly sent a lobbed shot over goalkeeper Merle Frohms and into the net for the opening goal.
Toone's goal, six minutes after she entered the game from the bench, sparked celebrations as England manager Sarina Wiegman — the winning coach with the Netherlands in 2017 — raised both arms in joy.
Facing its first defeat in nine European finals, Germany came close when Lea Schüller hit the post and then leveled the score in the 79th when Lina Magull knocked a low cross past England goalkeeper Mary Earps, taking the game to extra time.
When the game went to extra time there were echoes of another European Championship final at the same venue the year before, when the England men’s team had a 1-0 lead but lost on penalties to Italy, but Kelly's goal changed all that. England took control of the game in the final minutes, denying Germany chances for a second equalizer.
After the final whistle, Popp joined her teammates on the field and, with midfielder Lena Oberdorf, was comforted by England's Georgia Stanway.
England’s jubilant players entered Wiegman’s post-match news conference singing “It’s Coming Home” as they celebrated their dramatic win.
Wiegman was in the middle of the news conference when her squad burst into the room, singing and dancing around the top table.
Goalkeeper Earps even climbed on top of the table to continue dancing as the celebrations looked set to continue late into the evening.
Wiegman remains unbeaten in 12 games as coach at the European Championships after winning the tournament first with the Netherlands and now with England. One of her first moves after England won was to share a hug with 35-year-old midfielder Jill Scott, the only remaining player on either team from England's 2009 loss to Germany.
The game was refereed by Ukrainian Kateryna Monzul, who fled her home country after Russia invaded. One of Europe’s leading referees, Monzul left her home in Kharkiv -- a major city which has been heavily bombarded by Russian forces -- and spent five days living in a basement at her parents’ house before leaving the country and eventually living and working in Italy.