Welcome to Soccer’s Strangest Season

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A few minutes before the final whistle, Vlatko Andonovski rose from his seat, smoothed the figure-hugging salmon-pink sweater he had chosen for the occasion, summoned his colleagues and made for the exit. He had, apparently, seen enough of both France and the Netherlands. He did not need to know who won. (France, futilely.)

Andonovski, the United States women’s coach, seemed quite relaxed that night in Rotherham, just as he has throughout his stay in England for the final stages of Euro 2022. He was not making notes. He chatted happily with the phalanx of other managers and executives and scouts gathered in the tournament’s various directors’ boxes. He seemed unperturbed, unruffled.

Do not, though, be fooled. Andonovski will have departed Europe in no doubt that next summer will not be quite so insouciant as this one. In a host of ways, Euro 2022 represented a seismic shift for women’s soccer in England and in Europe: the size of the crowds, the interest of the television audiences, the immediately discernible boost in momentum and, most pressing for Andonovski, in terms of the caliber of its play.

Over the course of his stay, he will have noted that the threats to the United States’ hegemony are many and varied: a French side sufficiently gifted to beat the Dutch, the defeated World Cup finalists of three years ago, despite the absence of three of its brightest stars; a Germany reborn thanks to the blazing promise of Lina Magull and Lena Oberdorf.

And, of course, most notably, an England team blessed with a depth of resources and richness of talent that perhaps makes it the equal of the United States, a team imbued with a conviction and a purpose by its coach, Sarina Wiegman, and now pulsing with the confidence and self-belief that only triumph can bring.

The United States remains the standard-bearer in the women’s game, of course. There is a reason that tickets for its visit to Wembley in October sold out in only hours, and it is not just to do with coursing English pride. Alex Morgan, Rose Lavelle, Sophia Smith and the rest are a blockbuster draw. But Andonovski will have left the Euros in no doubt that his team’s dominance is in more peril now than it has been for a decade, as Europe surges into view. His job is to quell that rebellion. His days of relaxation will not last for long.

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