EXCLUSIVE: Hot start can see Lionesses roar to Euro 2022 glory
Lionesses legend Sue Smith believes England can set the tone for a sizzling summer by picking up three points in their Women's Euro 2022 opener against Austria tomorrow night.
Sarina Wiegman’s hosts kick off the tournament in front of a capacity crowd at Old Trafford and are firm favourites to start with a victory.
Nerves are bound to be a factor given the magnitude of the occasion. But if England get a result, Smith is confident they can go far in their quest for a maiden major tournament triumph.
Speaking exclusively to LiveScore, the former attacker said: "I think the key for England is that first game against Austria.
"Grinding out a comfortable win with a solid performance will really help them settle into the tournament because they have a tricky group with Norway in there.
"Of course, playing at home puts more pressure on the team to perform but I also think it’s going to provide them with a huge boost.
"Walking out at somewhere like Old Trafford in front of a full crowd, it’s exactly what top-class players want to be doing.
"I certainly thrived on those occasions in my own career and I’m sure the girls will as well."
Strength in numbers
The Lionesses are considered among the leading contenders for glory this summer, alongside the likes of Spain, France and boss Wiegman’s native Netherlands.
Smith, who won 93 international caps between 1997 and 2012, believes it is the strength in depth of England’s squad that really enhances their prospects.
She added: "When you’re hoping to progress in a tournament, going into quarter-final and semi-final matches, you have to be able to rotate your side.
"With England, we’ve seen it in the recent friendly matches where sometimes things aren’t quite working in the first half, but they have that ability to change it tactically or bring on someone to make an impact.
"If you asked me right now to name England’s best XI, I would really struggle! And I think that’s a positive because it means other teams will be looking at them thinking, ‘Who is going to play?’.
"Is it going to be Beth Mead or Chloe Kelly? Who is going to be the No9? Will Leah Williamson play at central defence or central midfield?
"These are all questions for Sarina but they are good questions. You need everyone pushing each other on and England have that in every position."
While the nation will hope to roar the Lionesses all the way to glory, there are several other sides who will fancy their chances of lifting the trophy on July 31.
But Smith — just like LiveScore’s exclusive Euro 2022 columnist Rachel Yankey — believes one side in particular have been overlooked by most.
The Prescot-born pundit, 42, said: "For me, aside from England, Sweden are the team to beat at Euro 2022.
"With a lot of the sides, you can say they have a great forward line but are a bit suspect at the back, or vice versa. Sweden can do both.
"They don’t have a real weakness, with that same strength in depth throughout their side. There’s a blend of experienced players but also youthful enthusiasm and they did so well at the Olympics.
"Not many people are talking about them pre-tournament and I think they’ll like that. For me, they are the team to watch."
With much of Euro 2020 hosted on English soil last summer, Euro 2022 is expected to produce the same feelgood factor.
Organisers will hope the event can bring both a timely economic boost and leave a legacy at grassroots level — two outcomes Smith is confident the tournament will deliver.
She added: "The VoucherCodes Women’s Euro 2022 Spending Report suggests a whopping 7.3 million fans will spend £260million in hospitality venues during the competition.
"On top of that, up to 17million people are expected to tune in on TV and I’m sure there’ll be parties, barbecues and all kinds of gatherings as fans enjoy the action with family and friends.
"In terms of the football itself, the hope is that it inspires the next generation — and the current one — to play football at any level and enjoy it.
"Whether it’s getting men and women to go and join their local team or inspiring kids to be the next Lucy Bronze or Harry Kane, that confidence and feeling of being part of a group is what makes playing football so special."
Sue Smith is working with VoucherCodes.co.uk to launch their Women’s Euro 2022 Spending Report. Click HERE for more information.