The Final Is Set…
After two incredibly tense semi-final matches, the final of the Women’s World Cup 2023, has been decided. It will be a contest between two sides who have never reached this stage before with Spain set to take on England at Stadium Australia. This is the final test for England in their quest for the trophy, but how were their opponents decided?
On the 15th of August, Spain faced Sweden in the first semi-final match of the tournament and it was a battling performance. 80 minutes were played with both sides showing potential, but neither converting their chances: that was until Salma Paralluelo entered the scene, impressing from the bench once again, scoring the opening goal of the game.
Her pace and technical ability could not be matched by the Swedish defenders as she brought liveliness to the pitch and the clinical finishing that had been missing, edging Spain in front. She became the second youngest player to score in a Women’s World Cup semi-final match aged 19 years and 275 days, but her goal didn’t maintain La Roja’s lead for long as Sweden’s, Rebecka Blomqvist, curled the equaliser beyond Catalina Coll with two minutes to play, believing she had forced the game to extra time.
Spain were quick to retaliate before this could happen with their captain, Olga Carmona, scoring the decisive goal in the 89th minute with a firing shot crashing off the underside of the crossbar - no goals in 80 minutes, then three in ten!
Carmona’s goal sent the Spanish into their first Women’s World Cup final. Despite the trouble the national team are having off the pitch, it was an arguably well-deserved victory with the team having 63% possession and 13 shots on goal, in comparison to Sweden’s 37% and six shots. Spain now have the chance to etch their name onto the ultimate prize as their U17’s and U20’s recently have, with a meeting with England in the final.
The following day, England took on the co-hosts in the second semi-final. The build-up to this game was intense. The rich sporting history between the two nations set the tone for tension before the players had even stepped out onto the pitch, matched on the day by over 75,000 fans inside the stadium cheering the Aussies on, creating an atmosphere so loud that the players couldn’t hear one another on the pitch. It was the Euro 2022 champions taking on the tournament co-hosts - it was destined to be full of emotion.
There was perhaps an increased level of pressure for the Lionesses going into this game with not only a place in the final at stake, but previous statistics not going entirely in their favour. The Lionesses’ only defeat under Sarina Wiegman came against the Matildas in April. However, England shut out the noise and stepped onto the pitch to get the job done - after all, our captain did say, “The English are never done” (Leah Williamson, 2022).
Half an hour in, it had been an open game with both sides appearing confident, yet not entirely comfortable on the ball, until the 36th minute came and Ella Toone stunned us all, breaking the deadlock. Silencing the doubters, Ella Toone struck an unstoppable ball, top bins, side netting, to give the Lionesses the lead. This was the first goal the co-hosts had conceded at the World Cup in well over five hours, the last one coming in their group stage run-in with Nigeria. This rocketing goal made Ella Toone the first ever men’s or women’s England player to score in a quarter-final, semi-final and final of a major international tournament: Euro 2022 quarter-final vs. Spain, 2023 World Cup semi-final vs. Australia, and Euro 2022 final vs. Germany - she is made for these big moments.
England fans were ecstatic all around the world until the Matildas’ captain, Sam Kerr, scored her first goal in the knockout stage of a Women’s World Cup to bring the score level, and what a goal it was. Kerr received the ball on the halfway line wasting no time in showcasing her talent as she fired home from 25-yards out. It was easily a goal to be in contention for goal of the tournament as the stadium erupted with noise from those wearing the colours of gold and green.
Lauren Hemp didn’t let them celebrate for long as she chased Millie Bright’s long ball forward, her pace unmatched by Ellie Carpenter who she rounded before shooting beyond Arnold to score the winning goal of the game.
With four minutes of normal time to play, Alessio Russo made sure of their spot in the final with a replica goal of her strike against Colombia, beating Arnold with an angled drive into the far corner. Our Lionesses are finalists.
Heartache in the semi-finals of the 2015 World Cup and 2019 World Cup makes this all the more special for players like Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood who have finally achieved their dream - to play in a World Cup final for the first time in their nation’s history. Should Lucy Bronze lift the trophy on Sunday, she will have completed football. She has won all there is to win at club level, and with the Lionesses’ Euro success last summer, this is the final piece of international silverware she needs to add to the collection. Talking after the game, she said, “We’ve all dreamed of being in the final, family and friends who have come to stay until the final, they all believed in us and to have everybody here to support us is unbelievable.”
It doesn’t really feel real to say that we’re heading to our first Women’s World Cup final. This group of players are special. What they have achieved on and off the pitch is unbelievable. Not only are they achieving success in tournaments, winning trophies and breaking records, they are also changing the course of women’s football in England, and throughout the world, and I feel incredibly proud and honoured to say that I am English - these are our Lionesses.
Even with some of our star players ruled out of this tournament through injury, one of which is our captain, Leah Williamson, and another being the Euro 2022 top goalscorer, Beth Mead, we have made our dreams a reality, fighting until the very end. This team have the desire to win, regardless of their opposition.
This particular meeting between England and Australia was made particularly difficult by the amount of players playing for opposing national teams, that are club teammates, coming up against each other. England captain, Millie Bright, was up against Australia captain and Chelsea teammate, Sam Kerr, whilst Mary Fowler was up against Manchester City teammates Lauren Hemp and Alex Greenwood, to name a few. Whilst the 90 minutes were played, these players were enemies, but as soon as the full time whistle blew, the Lionesses were quick to console the Matildas, showing the love and spirit of this team.
The Matildas may not have made the final, but they have put women’s football on the map in Australia. Their head coach spoke after the match saying, “this is bigger than 90 minutes of football”, highlighting just how inspirational this Australian side have been, captivating the nation and breaking records along the way. Belief that they could win the tournament demonstrates the mentality of these players who just want to show young girls in Australia that they can play on the biggest stage - they are role models. In previous tournaments, the furthest they have reached is the quarter-finals; this time, they made the semi-finals, and in some style, beating the reigning Olympic gold medalists along the way. They have had record-breaking home crowds, spurring them onto victory, and whilst they exit the World Cup at the semi-final stage, they can do so with their heads held high, knowing the magnitude of what they have achieved.
The final is set: Spain vs. England. August 20th, 11am (UK time). There have been 11 previous meetings between the sides, with six victories swaying England’s way, and only two Spain’s. The Lionesses are one win away from creating history in England, and being immortalised in women’s football history. Is it coming home? I think so.