LONDON - Thousands of England soccer fans dressed in red and white were descending on London's Wembley Stadium on Sunday for the final of the Women's Euro 2022 tournament that has gripped the country this summer.
Ahead of the sold-out final against Germany, fans including many young girls were dressed in the kit of England's Lionesses, while a helicopter provided television footage of the team's coach making its way to the stadium.
Excitement around the England team has been mounting since some 69,000 supporters gathered at Old Trafford to watch their opening victory over Austria. By the time they beat Sweden 4-0 in the semifinal they had drawn a peak BBC TV audience of 9.3 million viewers, a figure that is likely to be smashed when they take on Germany at 1700 local time (1600 GMT) on Sunday.
What a sight. pic.twitter.com/tga9n4rJrl— Lionesses (@Lionesses) July 31, 2022
"Good luck, I hope you win, bye," Charlotte, the seven-year-old daughter of Prince William and his wife Kate, told the team in a short video message online. On Saturday the military band outside Buckingham Palace played "Sweet Caroline," the team's unofficial anthem, at the Changing of the Guard.
Across London and other major cities in England, pub gardens and fan zones were due to show the game on big screens, while messages of support flooded in from the worlds of sport, entertainment and politics.
Emily Taylor, an England supporter, told Reuters the tournament had brought the country together.
"Could we ever envisage when we were girls growing up that one day we would have nearly 90,000 people at Wembley supporting the women's football team? Come on England," she said.
"It's absolutely amazing to be part of today," Sarah Poulter told Reuters as she arrived at Wembley with two daughters and a friend. "The fan zone was mega loud."
Atmosphere building pic.twitter.com/G5x8cGPbWl— Lionesses (@Lionesses) July 31, 2022
Asked who would win, the group all shouted England, with one adding: "They're going to bring it home, unlike the men."
Sarina Wiegman's squad are bidding to become the first England team to win a major trophy for 56 years, after the men's side lost to Italy in last year's European Championship final, a game marred by violence around the Wembley stadium.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a letter to the women's team that they had already created fantastic memories, with packed fan zones, sold-out stadiums and small children pictured dancing in the stands as the team swept past their opponents.
"Whatever happens at Wembley this evening, I know that, come tomorrow morning, the pitches and playgrounds and parks of this country will filled as never before with girls and women who know beyond any shadow of a doubt that football is not just for boys — it really is for anyone," Johnson said.
(Reporting by Kate Holton, editing by Ed Osmond)