Alessia Russo’s back-heel set the EUROs alight and she could win the Golden Boot without starting

The making of a superstar super-sub: Alessia Russo’s back-heeled strike has set the Women’s Euros alight and the Manchester United forward could win the Golden Boot without starting a SINGLE game

  • Alessia Russo has scored four goals at the EUROs without starting a single game 
  • She needs a hat-trick in Sunday’s final to usurp Beth Mead for the Golden Boot 
  • Her performances from the bench have caused many to call for her to now start
  • She stunned the footballing world with her back-heeled strike against Sweden 

Cheeky, audacious, sublime. Alessia Russo’s back-heeled goal in England’s semi-final win over Sweden was the best we have seen at Euro 2022.

It was a piece of individual brilliance of which any player, male or female, would have been proud. Russo has been one of the stars of the tournament. More remarkable than her goal on Tuesday is that she could win the Golden Boot without even starting a game.

The England striker has scored four goals off the bench, two behind team-mate and top scorer Beth Mead. It would take a hat-trick in Sunday’s final at Wembley to usurp Mead but after her exquisite effort against Sweden, nothing seems impossible.

Alessia Russo came off the bench again to score the third in England’s 4-0 mauling of Sweden

After hitting the goalkeeper with her first effort from Fran Kirby’s low cross, Russo reacted quickest to the rebound, outmuscled Caroline Seger and flicked the ball with the back of her foot through the legs of Hedvig Lindahl in the Sweden goal.

‘I don’t normally score back-heels, I don’t think you’ll see one again!’ Russo said. ‘To score in a semi-final and progress to the final is a huge highlight of my career.

‘I missed the first chance and we were actually working on cut-backs in training the other day. I could have made it a lot easier for myself if I’d scored the first one. It fell nicely, but I don’t remember too much about it.

‘Once it fell back to me I thought, “What’s the quickest route for me to get this ball in the back of the net?” I should have scored in the first place, so I just swung a foot at it and luckily it hit the net.’

Sarina Wiegman usually refuses to talk about individual players, but the England manager made an exception for Russo’s exquisite goal.

‘You must have so much courage to do such an unpredictable and phenomenal thing like that. No one could react to it,’ Wiegman said. ‘That was really nice to watch. Then it was 3-0 so we knew, “OK, now we just consolidate and finish the game”.’

Russo’s brilliance lit up Bramall Lane but it also captured the imagination of the world of football. ‘Lessi, not Messi,’ Ian Wright said on the BBC afterwards. ‘What she has done when she comes on… I don’t know what she has to do to start a game.

‘The improvisation is fantastic. When she came on, she instantly made an impact. She links play. I’m not sure what more she needs to do to start.

Ian Wright called Russo 'Lessi' - likening her name to that of Argentina talisman Lionel Messi

Ian Wright called Russo ‘Lessi’ – likening her name to that of Argentina talisman Lionel Messi

‘When you look at Ellen White’s contribution over the years, you can’t question it. But she hasn’t done enough in this tournament. This girl (Russo) is doing it. I don’t think Wiegman will change it.’

Abby Wambach, a World Cup winner and Olympic gold medallist with the United States, said: ‘I dreamt of scoring a goal like that my whole life. Never happened. Alessia Russo, take a bow.’

Chelsea and Australia striker Sam Kerr tweeted: ‘Not gonna lie, that was lit from Russo.’

The Manchester United forward' back-heel went through Hedvig Lindahl's legs and has drawn widespread acclaim

The Manchester United forward’ back-heel went through Hedvig Lindahl’s legs and has drawn widespread acclaim

But the question remains: what does Russo have to do to start? She has been one of England’s best players and will likely finish in UEFA’s team of the tournament.

‘She does everything that she needs to do really well, but before every game we take so many things in consideration,’ Wiegman said. ‘She could start but I think the starting team have done really well too and I think the combination we continue to have works well. We’ll just see.’

No striker wants to be a ‘super sub’, but it is a role that Russo is more than happy playing and it is working to perfection. ‘If that’s the role, I’ll take it for sure,’ she said. ‘Ellen does a great job at wearing everyone out, as does the whole team. We’re up there in terms of physicality. Whenever the chance is there I’ll take it. It’s been amazing and I’m loving playing for the Three Lions.’

She could still win the tournament's Golden Boot but would need a hat-trick in the final

She could still win the tournament’s Golden Boot but would need a hat-trick in the final

Russo could finish this summer as a European champion but it is unclear where she will be playing her club football in the long term. She has one year remaining on her Manchester United contract but turned down the offer of a new deal before the start of this tournament.

Her value has rocketed in the last three weeks and United will have to go back with an improved offer if they want to keep hold of their star player, or risk losing her for nothing next summer.

After taking the roof off Bramall Lane on Tuesday, the task for Russo now is to do the same at Wembley in what will be the biggest game of her life.