Failing to qualify for the first six FIFA Women’s World Cup, Spain has claimed its maiden Women’s World Cup victory after a clinical 1-0 performance against England, further extending its streak of failing to win a World Cup.
Entering the World Cup in turmoil and controversy, Spain came into the tournament amidst a dispute between the players and coach Jorge Vilda and the Spanish FA (RFEF), unhappy with management and the atmosphere in the locker room. They would also enter without star duo Mapi Leon and Patri Guijarro. However, Spain has outlasted 32 of the best national teams in the world to be crowned world champions in Australia.
In a tournament that looked like it wasn’t going to win after a 4-0 defeat to Japan, Spain has proved to itself, its fans and the entire world that it is, in fact, no match for any country.
While they may not be able to put all that behind them just yet, La Roja can celebrate their first Women’s World Cup in style. Guided by the likes of one of the world’s best defenders, Ona Batlle, star midfielder Aitana Bonmati, veterans Jennifer Hermoso and Alexia Putellas, teenage sensation Salma Paralluelo, and World Cup final goal-scorer and captain Olga Carmona.
The game began before the opening kick-off as both managers made crucial tactical decisions regarding their starting teams. In particular, their decision would affect two future superstars of women’s football who were fighting for the Young Player of the Tournament award; Salma Paralluelo and Lauren James.
Recovering from an ACL injury prior to the tournament, Jorge Vilda made the tough decision to drop two-time Ballon d’Or winner and Barcelona midfielder Alexia Putellas to the reserves in favour of youngster Salma Paralluelo.
The same couldn’t be said for Lauren James. After scoring and competing well in the midfield against the Matildas, Sarina Wiegman opted to keep Ella Toone in the team, pushing James to the reserves after missing the previous two matches due to suspension.
As expected, the game’s opening stages would be heavily contested in the midfield, with six of the most talented women’s football stars colliding for the advantage. La Roja’s trio of Teresa Abelleira, Aitana Bonmati and Jennifer Hermoso going up against the impeccable Lionesses trio of Keira Walsh, Georgia Stanway and Ella Toone.
Spain was on top of possession on paper, but that was not a true reflection of what was occurring; the two countries would swap chances throughout, but nothing was game-changing.
The game’s first opportunity arose in the 16th minute when the three-back formation implemented by Wiegman allowed Lucy Bronze and Rachel Daly to roam freely on the wings, which caused difficulty for Spain.
Having freed up space against some of her Barcelona club teammates, Bronze found Daly in the box. Instead of taking a difficult shot with her weak foot, she laid it off for Lauren Hemp.
Aiming to score her third goal in the past three games, the Manchester City striker was inches off from succeeding, with Spain only being saved by the woodwork.
Not to be outdone by its rivals, Spain quickly hit back with an opportunity of its own. A beautifully delivered ball entered the penalty area, finding winger Alba Redondo.
Managing to get a shot off after the ball landed at her feet, Redondo shot, only to be saved by goal-stopper Mary Earps who has been a brick wall throughout the campaign, only allowing four goals into the back of the net.
In perfect storytelling, the hero of Spain’s victory against Sweden would break the deadlock. Having only scored one international goal before the semi-final, fullback Olga Carmona clinched her third goal and Spain’s first of the game, giving La Roja a crucial lead.
Following her opposite number Lucy Bronze losing the ball in the midfield, Carmona tracked down the left sideline on an overlap and produced a clinically brilliant finish into the bottom right corner, out of the way from Earps’ reach.
As the 23-year-old Real Madrid sensation celebrated with her team – bar manager Jorge Vilda – she was cheered on by the Spain fans in attendance. One couldn’t forget her relationship with Sydney, Australia; less than six months ago, she scored her first international goal against the Matildas in February at CommBank Stadium.
While the game entered the final moments of the first-half, 19-year-old sensation, Salma Paralluelo hit the post meaning La Roja would go into the break with a 1-0 lead.
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Entering the second 45 minutes, Spain’s hands firmly grasped on a maiden World Cup trophy, but Sarina Wiegman decided to make back-to-back attacking changes. Finally allowing Lauren James to enter the game, along with Chloe Kelly, the changes would also see her move the Lionesses back to a four-back formation aiming to stop the constant pressure of the Spaniards.
Despite the changes, England was continually undermined and outplayed by Spain’s silky footwork and dribbling skills, as well as its knack for keeping the ball from interceptions, which the Lionesses struggled with throughout.
Spain was well led by Barcelona’s Aitana Bonmati, with the midfielder’s key influence in the midfield allowing multiple chances to go in favour of La Roja. The first was her own attempt which went centimetres over the crossbar, followed by her setting up consecutive corners placing pressure on the opposing world-class defenders.
Although a controversial decision saw Spain awarded a penalty due to a Keira Walsh handball, Mary Earps became the saviour for her country in a back-and-forth contest.
Stepping up to the spot, Jennifer Hermoso looked to get the game out of England’s reach, but just like the group stage game against Costa Rica, she was unsuccessful in her attempt.
The crowd, primarily English, erupted and seemed to rejuvenate their national team, who seemed down and out, producing lacklustre efforts, but it was too late.
While England had several minor chances of levelling up the game, the football gods were not on its side as Spain celebrated its maiden Women’s World Cup victory.