“A lot of the girls before the game said to me I need to shoot more,” said Georgia Stanway, speaking to the media post-winning goal versus Spain on Tuesday night.
A hard sentence to fathom for a midfielder who has earned a reputation for being one of the best in the game striking a ball from the other side of the 18-yard box.
“Coming into this tournament, I’d not had masses of efforts on goal,” she expanded. “I don’t know why I shot. I don’t know what came over me. Usually I would probably pass that ball to the winger and expect the ball to be put back into the box, but I just thought, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?'”
What happened is Stanway sent an effort flying past Sandra Paños and into the top corner, a goal that has sent England to Sheffield for a home European Championships semifinal against either Sweden or Belgium next Tuesday.
Stanway has been scoring goals of a similar ilk since she burst onto the scene as a Manchester City fresh-faced teenager back in 2015, but admitted this was the best moment yet.
“Yeah, probably,” she smiled. “It all feels like a massive blur at the moment. I need to watch it back and see where I was, how it went in the net — I literally can’t remember.
“I remember saying to one of the girls, ‘At what moment did we actually score?’ The celebrations at the end showed how much it meant to us and the fans were unbelievable.”
It was somewhat of a surprise to see some of the best defenders in Europe stand off a player well-known for her ability from range, as the Spanish players allowed Stanway to stroll forward and get her shot off from the edge of the box.
And the midfielder, who will join Bayern Munich in preseason, admitted she was similarly surprised she was given the opportunity to shoot.
“I think it was because nobody came to me. I’d expect a defender to step out to me and put me under some pressure or challenge my decision making.
“Nobody came to me. When the defender makes that decision for me, it’s easier. I honestly don’t know why I shot, but I’m glad I did.”
Stanway’s role was always going to be key, and not just offensively. For a player who looked unlikely to be starting games at all, let alone all of them, until the late decision to revert captain Leah Williamson back to the defense, she has taken on a prominent role in the Lionesses’ side.
Her goal was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to her all-round performance, tenacious from the off and getting stuck into every challenge she could in an enthralling battle with the brilliant Aitana Bonmatí.
Stanway described it as the “nasty” role, but believes this England side now has a different side to them and spoke about her duels in the middle of the park.
“Just the grit, the dirty work, getting up to the ball, putting the tackles in, making sure to challenge their decision-making and making them uncomfortable.
“That’s what we did tonight. We rattled them in areas and made them feel uncomfortable. We were able to execute our game plan.”
On Bonmatí, Stanway added: “She’s a class player. Spain were actually really good tonight. That just showcases how good we were as well. I’s not nice to see a good side go out of a tournament, but you’ve got to beat the best to be the best.”
Stanway’s assertion that Spain played well is not wrong. For large parts of the 90 minutes, Jorge Vilda’s side was the better of the two and deservedly took the lead when Esther González swivelled and fired home past Mary Earps.
They came close to making it two and sending England out at the quarterfinal stage, and England could perhaps count themselves fortunate it didn’t all end here, and Stanway accepts there are still things to work on, especially how they’re starting games.
“We’ve got a history of not having the best 10 or 15 minutes and we kind of wanted to fix that,” she admitted.
“We’ve just got to be comfortable without possession first and then we can ease and build ourselves back into the game. There are moments that we can work on. Massive, massive moments.
“We felt we were in the game anyway and we rattled them, we were causing them problems. We were putting crosses in the box, having shots, we were breaking them down. It was just a matter of time and I’m just glad we did it within the time.”