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End of the beginning: England wants Euro win to lead to more

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LONDON — In soccer-mad England, which sees itself as the home of the world’s game, women and girls finally have a team full of heroes who look like them.

Some 7,000 singing, dancing, flag-waving fans — many of them mothers and daughters — jammed into central London’s Trafalgar Square on Monday to celebrate England’s victory in the 2022 women’s European championship, the first major soccer victory by any England team in 56 years.

The tournament, hosted by England and watched by record audiences on television and in stadiums across the country, was the culmination of years of investment in women’s soccer that organizers hope will spur more girls to play the game, which is known here as football.

Madison Fullerd-Jones is already on board.

The 9-year-old from Maidstone, southeast of London, got up early and came to the capital with her mother, aunt, two sisters and a cousin to celebrate with the Lionesses, as England’s soccer team is known. Wearing an England shirt and waving a flag bearing the national Cross of St. George, Madison said she hoped to play for England some day, just like her favorite player, Georgia Stanway.

“I just want to show how good I am and show that girls can do what boys can do,’’ she said. “I’m passionate about football.″

England captain Leah Williamson would be proud.

The legacy of the tournament will be “change of the best kind,” Williamson told the crowd.

“The legacy of the tournament was … what we’ve done for young girls and women who can look up and aspire to be us,” she said, still wearing the winner’s medal that was draped around her neck Sunday night by Prince William. “I think England have hosted an incredible tournament, and we’ve changed the game in this country, and hopefully across Europe, across the world.”

England’s Chloe Kelly, right, helped lead her team to victory during the final soccer match at Wembley stadium on Sunday.
AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino

England beat Germany 2-1 Sunday night in an overtime game watched by 87,192 fans at Wembley Stadium, a record for any European championship final, men’s or women’s. The tournament as a whole attracted 574,875 spectators, more than double the previous record of 240,055 set in 2017 in the Netherlands.

Many more watched on TV, with the final achieving a peak audience of 17.5 million viewers and an average audience share of 66%, according to Ratings UK.

The figures underscore the resurrection of women’s football in England, where the men who ran the game once banned women from using their facilities for 50 years until the early 1970s.

After previous generations of women soccer players were forced to support themselves by working outside the sport, today’s players are able to focus on the game fulltime following the creation of a fully professional league in 2018-19.

England players celebrate on stage at an event at Trafalgar Square in London, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022. England beat Germany 2-1 and won the final of the Women's Euro 2022 on Sunday. (James Manning/PA via AP)
The players basked in the glory of their victory during the rowdy celebration on Aug. 1, 2022.
James Manning/PA via AP

Now supporters of the game are targeting increased participation at the grassroots level to spur continued success.

The Football Association, the sport’s governing body in England, is campaigning for schools in England to provide equal opportunities for boys and girls to play soccer as part of the curriculum. A recent study found that 72% of primary schools provided equal instruction to boys and girls, but that figure fell to 44% in secondary schools.

“This generation of ladies have had to fight and scrap and do everything,” Ian Wright, a former England player, said on the BBC. “Everybody’s in tears because this is the culmination of a lot of hard work, a lot of suffering, a lot of parents, a lot of people doing a lot work to get them here. … It’s up to the FA to take over grassroots and get rid of all those barriers.”

England players celebrate on stage at an event at Trafalgar Square in London, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022. England beat Germany 2-1 and won the final of the Women's Euro 2022 on Sunday. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
The victory marked a major milestone for women’s soccer in England, which is widely regarded as a major hub of the sport.
AP Photo/Frank Augstein

The match also prompted immense interest in Germany, where many feel that not enough is being done to support female athletes.

“It’s a concern of the government as a whole to do more for sport, including women’s football,” government spokesman Wolfgang Büchner said Monday in Berlin.

He praised the German team for being such positive role models for young people.

“Perhaps you could say, especially during a summer with so much depressing news, that the wonderful performance of the German women’s team at this European Championship has done many people in Germany good,” Büchner said.

England head coach Sarina Wiegman, left, and Arjan Veurink on stage at an event at Trafalgar Square in London, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022. England beat Germany 2-1 and won the final of the Women's Euro 2022 on Sunday. (James Manning/PA via AP)
England head coach Sarina Wiegman, left, and Arjan Veurink joined the team on stage at the event at Trafalgar Square in London.
James Manning/PA via AP

Supporters of women’s soccer hope this victory will energize the sport the way the U.S. victory in the 1999 World Cup boosted the sport in America. That game ended with Brandi Chastain’s knee-sliding, sports bra-revealing celebration after the penalty shootout that sealed the U.S. win over China at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

England’s Chloe Kelly reprised that scene in the closing minutes of Sunday’s final, when she ripped off her jersey to celebrate her tie-breaking goal in the closing minutes of the win over Germany.

Kelly joked about her ecstatic celebrations when she spoke to the crowd Monday, saying: “The shirt’s staying on!”

“I’m proud to wear this badge,” Kelly told the crowd, referring to the England shield on her team shirt. “But I’m even more proud to share the pitch with such an unbelievable group of players.”

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As the World Focuses on Soccer, a Women’s Team in Exile Aches to Play

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“We must address a message of hope that sports is possible for women when it is quite difficult or impossible now in Afghanistan,” Lappartient said. “I just want to give this idea that the light is still on.”

Without similar support from FIFA, the Afghan women’s soccer team is now looking for somewhere to play as an official national team. It’s considering joining the Confederation of Independent Football Associations, or Conifa, said Popal, the longtime Afghan women’s football program director. According to Conifa’s website, the organization “supports representatives of international football teams from nations, de facto nations, regions, minority people and sports isolated territories.”

But the level and depth of competition at Conifa is not what the Afghans have been used to at the FIFA level, where 187 women’s teams compete. In comparison, Conifa’s website listed only three women’s programs in its rankings from July: FA Sapmi (from the Indigenous Sami people who inhabit part of Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia), Northern Cyprus and Tibet.

For the Afghan women, the goal is to return to play under FIFA’s umbrella. To get there, Popal, who lives in Denmark, has sent multiple emails to FIFA officials asking them for help reinstating the Afghan team. For months and months now, she has yet to receive an answer.

Last month, she also filed an official grievance with FIFA, writing, “All the coaches and players need to have their right to play respected and FIFA has the responsibility to guarantee our right to represent Afghanistan, even in exile.” At least a half dozen current and former players have also filed grievances, she said.

Again, no response.

“Men took away the players’ right to play football in Afghanistan, and now FIFA is taking away the right for the players to play football anywhere else,” Popal said. “I’m so frustrated that women have no voice. Why do the women of Afghanistan always have to pay the price?”

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College football Saturday predictions: TCU vs. Kansas State, plus more picks

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Here are Pigskin Profit’s college football picks for Saturday’s games:

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Ohio (+1.5) over Toledo

Ohio, looking for its first MAC title since 1968, has exceeded expectations all season, going 9-3 — both overall and against the spread — after being picked to finish fourth in its division. The Rockets enter with back-to-back losses as heavy favorites. The fact Toledo lost quarterback Dequan Finn last week in a season-low 14-point effort will be too much to overcome. 

Quarterback Max Duggan #15 of the TCU Horned Frogs
Quarterback Max Duggan #15 of the TCU Horned Frogs
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Running back Deuce Vaughn #22 of the Kansas State Wildcats
Running back Deuce Vaughn #22 of the Kansas State Wildcats
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Kansas State (+2.5) over TCU

A perfect record means TCU deserves to be in the playoff regardless of who wins the Big 12 title, but the Horned Frogs’ penchant for slow starts and late sweats makes them difficult to trust against the streaking Wildcats, who held an 18-point lead over them in a game during which Kansas State’s top two quarterbacks were both injured. After TCU’s 12-0 regular season — including a 9-2-1 record against the spread — Vegas is still begging you to take them. 

TROY (-8.5) over Coastal Carolina

The Post’s deadline means I have to make this pick now, but there is no need for you to pull the trigger until Grayson McCall’s status is revealed. Right now, it looks like the Chanticleers will be without their star quarterback for a third straight game. A meeting with the Sun Belt’s best defense doesn’t bode well for an offense that scored 7 points in a 40-point loss to James Madison last weekend. 

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Fresno State (+3.5) over BOISE STATE

Ignore the Broncos’ 40-20 win on Oct. 8, when the Bulldogs played without future NFL quarterback Jake Haener. Since that loss, Fresno State has won seven straight games, averaging nearly 40 points over the past six games. An overrated Boise State defense has suffered its three losses to the highest-ranked offenses it has faced this season, while the blue field isn’t what it used to be. Boise State has dropped five home games over the past three seasons. 

Georgia (-17.5) over LSU

The Bulldogs have predictably fallen victim to the lulls attached to most repeat efforts, but they have been at their best in their biggest games — most memorably dominating Oregon and Tennessee — and an SEC Championship would hold extra meaning after Georgia lost the crown last year. Coach Brian Kelly may want to print out the bevy of clips praising him after his Tigers’ win over Alabama. In a few weeks, he’ll be staring down his fifth loss of the season. 

LSU head coach Brian Kelly
LSU head coach Brian Kelly
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UCF (+4) over TULANE

The Green Wave own the better story — flipping last year’s 2-10 mark to move one win from their first conference championship since 1998 — and the momentum after ending Cincinnati’s 32-game home win streak last week. The Knights own a head-to-head road win from three weeks ago, the 11th-ranked offense in FBS, and most importantly, a few extra points in their pocket. 

North Carolina (+7.5) over Clemson

The Tigers enter another title game as favorites against an undeserving representative from the Coastal Division, but DJ Uiagalelei’s latest shaky performance (8-for-29 for 99 yards in a playoff-killing loss, which doubled as Clemson’s first home defeat since 2016) — and coach Dabo Swinney’s stupidly stubborn decision to keep the struggling quarterback as his starter, gives the Tar Heels an important edge in sports’ most important position. By rule, one team must be declared the ACC champion. 

Michigan (-17) over Purdue

Don’t be concerned about a letdown after the Wolverines won their first game at Ohio State in 22 years. An even more emotional win over the Buckeyes wasn’t an issue last year in the Big Ten title game — a 42-3 demolition of Iowa — and won’t have an impact against the third unranked Power Five team to play in a conference title game in the past decade. A Big Ten championship is plenty of motivation. 

Best bets: Fresno State, Georgia, Michigan 
This season: 92-97-6 
2014-21 record: 1,030-970-19

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United States vs. Netherlands prediction: World Cup picks, odds

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The United States men’s national team has a golden opportunity on Saturday morning in the World Cup. With the entire country behind them, the Yanks could qualify for the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002. 

Team USA is an underdog against the Netherlands (they’re +375 to win), but the Americans relish the role of being outsiders going up against a very vulnerable favorite. 

As we saw against Wales and Iran, the USMNT can struggle to break down defensive teams. The Yanks are an athletic, creative and quick team, but they’re not all that comfortable in possession. Against Wales and Iran, they dominated possession and struggled to break through enough times to feel comfortable. 

U.S. vs. Netherlands pick: U.S. +375 (PointsBet)

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But against England — easily its best performance of the tournament — the USMNT was able to use its athleticism, team speed and talent to give the Three Lions a lot to think about. England tore through both Iran and Wales, but struggled mightily against the Americans because it couldn’t dominate the midfield. 

Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah and Weston McKennie have turned into one of the best midfield trios in the tournament. Their ability to make life difficult on opposing midfielders is a huge factor against a Dutch midfield that should be terrific on paper, but has struggled through the first three matches. 

Betting on the World Cup?

In fact, outside of Cody Gakpo, you could say that about the entire Netherlands team. Even though they won Group A with two wins and a draw, Clockwork Oranje have been relatively disappointing compared to their pretournament expectations. 

Drawn into a soft group with Qatar, Ecuador and Senegal, the Netherlands posted a +4 goal differential, but its expected goal difference was -0.4 and it was -1.8 before its 2-0 victory against Qatar on Tuesday. In other words, the Netherlands was a bit fortunate to post the results it did. 

Christian Pulisic of United States
Christian Pulisic of United States
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That doesn’t mean that the Dutch can’t grow into this tournament. The history of the World Cup is littered with teams that started slowly and went on to do big things, so there’s no reason to count them out just yet. 

That said, it’s also hard to feel confident about backing them as an odds-on favorite against a team that punches up in competition very well. England is a stronger team than the Netherlands, with a better midfield, and the USMNT gave it fits in a nil-nil draw. 

Winning the battle in the midfield would give the USMNT a serious chance to win this match, and it’s a fair argument to make that the Yanks have the edge in the middle of the field with Adams, Musah and McKennie going up against some combination of Frenkie de Jong, Davy Klaassen, Teun Koopmeiners and Marten de Roon. 

The Netherlands may have advantages in other parts of the pitch, and the U.S. defense has looked a bit vulnerable at times against less talented attacks than the Clockwork Oranje, but the Dutch, aside from Gakpo, just haven’t really looked all that threatening. The Netherlands only created 0.8 expected goals against Senegal and Ecuador. 

Sportsbooks around the country will be a little tepid about how they price the USA, given how much money will come in on the Yanks, but this number is still well worth a bet on a team that profiles extremely well as an underdog. 

U.S. vs. Netherlands pick: U.S.A. +375 (PointsBet)

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