Spain 2-1 Sweden: Late strikes from Paralluelo and Carmona send La Roja to first WWC Final

With a place in the final on the line, the stakes had never been higher – Eden Park had already played host to some brilliant clashes at this FIFA Women’s World Cup, and it looked set for another on Tuesday. As they walked out on that cool evening in Auckland, the semifinalists felt the hope and anticipation of progressing to the final. For Spain, this feeling was an unfamiliar one, but their inexperience would not deter them in their quest for first time glory.

Sweden have been in this position four times before – only managing to progress once. Having felled two past World Champions already, the ­Blågult looked to their experience and history for the answers against this strong La Roja team.

ESP: Coll; Carmona, Codina, Paredes, Batlle; Putellas, Abelleira, Bonmati; Caldentey, Hermoso, Redondo

SWE: Musovic; Andersson, Eriksson, Ilestedt, Björn, Rubensson, Angeldahl, Rolfö, Asllani, Rytting Kaneryd, Blackstenius

As the competition’s most prolific side, Spain looked to dominate possession early in search of an early lead. Their high passing ability was on display as Sweden struggled to get the dispossess their Iberian opponents – and for the first ten minutes of play, La Roja looked comfortable in possession but failed to produce clear cut goalscoring opportunities.

Sweden grew more comfortable in possession as the half progressed. However, it was clear their gameplan relied on quick counter-attacks after winning possession high. As Spain dominated possession in their half, it became apparent to Sweden that they had to wait for their chances – as they did against the USA. With the quality Spain possessed though, holding out for penalties seemed a dangerous strategy. 

As the half progressed, Spain looked to break through Sweden’s stout defence with various strategies. This included hopeful shots from the edge of the box to test Musovic in Sweden’s goal. La Roja also played early long balls over the Swedish defensive line, which lacked quality in the end to cause problems. 

As Spain’s attacking momentum slowed, Sweden looked to take advantage and counter where possible. However, their quality in the final third barely improved on Spain’s in transition. They won possession high in Spain’s half multiple times but couldn’t find the right pass to make the right chance – and this was the case until the final stages of the first half.

Despite Spain’s dominance in possession throughout, Sweden produced the first shot on target of the match in the 42nd minute. As they pressed the Spanish high, Björn won the ball from a poor clearance, allowing her to deliver a looping cross over the Spanish defence. The ball found Rolfö, who delivered a venomous volley at Coll – though the keeper was able to parry the ball away. It was an early sign of Sweden’s quality, which was largely absent in a half controlled by Spain. 

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Sweden continued to press Spain high in the remaining minutes of the half and looked closer to taking the lead. However, they couldn’t find the goal as the half ended. Despite their dominance in possession, Spain hadn’t found the chance to truly test Sweden yet.

It was therefore clear that change had to be found for both teams in search of an elusive goal. While neither side made any alterations to the eleven players on the pitch, Sweden looked a different side as they the second half. Their chance at the end of the first half seemed to have given them life as they pressed Spain high in search of the lead. Blackstenius caused problems as Sweden remained present and dangerous in Spain’s half.

Spain needed to change something to switch momentum back in their favour. In the 57th minute, Paralluelo came on for Putellas and her impact was felt from her first touch. She gave immediate life to Spain again as they retook control of the match, almost helping her country to take the lead immediately after coming on with a run at Sweden’s defence in the 59th minute. She played it to Hermoso who found Redondo in the box, though the winger couldn’t turn towards goal before losing the ball. 

Paralluelo continued to cause problems for Sweden throughout the half. Redondo’s cross was nodded over the bar by the substitute in the 63rd minute – and as the game wore on, she often couldn’t find the final pass in the area to create a clear cut opportunity. 

Paralluelo remained the key player in Spain’s attack as they continued to dominate the match – while Sweden continued to sit back with the hope of a counter. Spain taking the lead only seemed inevitable at this point, and it came in the 81st minute. 

After denying Hermoso’s ball reaching Navarro, Andersson was unable to clear the ball properly – allowing Paralluelo to promptly pounce and smash the ball on the half-volley low into Musovic’s left corner. The Swedish ‘keeper stood no chance of denying the 19-year-old, who had been influential in the Spanish attack since her introduction – and she rightly deserved to score. Spain finally had the lead, with less than ten minutes remaining of regulation time. 

Sweden refused to go out without a fight though. They responded almost immediately as Eriksson connected with Rolfö’s cross, though she couldn’t get the right angle to head the ball towards goal. As the clock continued to tick ever closer to the final whistle, Sweden were running out of time – and slowly running out of hope. 

In the 88th minute, the Blågult were running out of options, hope and time – and yet Blomqvist restored their dreams of reaching the final again as she levelled the match with mere minutes remaining. Hurtig got on the end of a deep looping cross from Asllani to head it towards Blomqvist, who then took it on the half valley to score high into Coll’s left corner. From almost nothing, Sweden were back on level terms and the match seemed destined for extra-time.

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Spain looked to respond to the setback immediately, as they ran at Sweden from kick-off. The Scandinavias fended off the threat – albeit only momentarily, as the ball sailed out for a Spain corner. The Blågult had defended resolutely throughout, and they needed to continue that to see their way through to extra-time. Whether it was tiredness or relief from the equaliser, Sweden’s defence had a rare lapse in concentration. Carmona received the ball unmarked on the edge of the box from the corner – and it proved to be a fatal mistake for Sweden, as she delivered a looping shot over Musovic which bounced off the bar and over the line. Almost instantly after Sweden’s equaliser, Spain had retaken the lead – and looked destined to claim victory in Auckland.

As the final whistle blew, elation and relief released throughout La Roja. Their fantastic run continues as they progress to their first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup Final. Spain will play either Australia or England in Sydney on Sunday, with their eyes firmly fixed on the trophy. Sweden will play for their fourth bronze medal on Saturday, against the loser of Wednesday’s semifinal. The Blågult’s wait for first time glory goes on, as they’re left to ponder just where things went wrong. 

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