With the eyes of two great footballing nations tuning in to watch the showpiece final of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, a great on-pitch battle would decide the destination of the greatest trophy in women’s football – and it would be heading to uncharted territories regardless of the result.
ESP: Coll; Carmona, Codina, Paredes, Batlle; Hermoso, Abelleira, Bonmatí; Caldentey, Paralluelo, Redondo
ENG: Earps; Greenwood, Bright, Carter; Daly, Walsh, Stanway, Bronze; Toone; Hemp, Russo
A frantic and rather physical affair in Sydney began to unfold almost instantaneously, and it was the Lionesses that enjoyed the better opportunities in the early stages. Jess Carter’s long ball through for Lauren Hemp was cut out well by Cata Coll, who was called upon again soon after to deny Hemp’s low strike into the bottom-right corner.
But the game truly began to heat up as the twenty-minute mark approached, with Hemp thundering a powerful strike against the crossbar. Rachel Daly’s cut-back pass found the Manchester City star, who came incredibly close to opening the scoring in emphatic style.
La Roja had a chance of their own merely minutes later though, with Mariona Caldentey thundering down the left flank before delivering a pinpoint cross to Salma Paralluelo. The youngster wasn’t able to power an accurate strike towards goal, and in a desperate bid to pick up the pieces, Alba Redondo saw her strike pushed away by Mary Earps.
It was Spain that found the first breakthrough in this stunning final, as an out-of-position Lucy Bronze was dispossessed. Mariona Caldentey picked out the darting run of Olga Carmona on the left flank, unleashing a screaming effort into the bottom-right corner that just evaded the outstretched arms of the goalkeeper – and la Roja had the lead.
England looked to restore parity ahead of the break though, with Hemp dancing forwards and slotting Alessia Russo through on goal. She placed a ball into the box, with the offside flag sparing Ella Toone’s blushes as she flashed her effort wide of the target.
With the Lionesses continuing to test the Spanish defence, la Roja wanted more – and they came incredibly close to doubling their lead in stoppage time. Ona Batlle’s cross towards the penalty spot was met well by Paralluelo, but she could only thump her strike against the base of the post.
Usually renowned for her smart substitutions, Sarina Wiegman shocked supporters at half-time by withdrawing Alessia Russo and Rachel Daly. Lauren James and Chloe Kelly took their spaces, effectively leaving England without a recognised striker as they continued their desperate search for an equaliser.
Caldentey forced a fine save from Earps just five minutes into the second half, jinking around incoming tackles before launching an effort towards the bottom corner – but the English shotstopper was on hand to tip the strike around the post and out for a corner.
Kelly looked to impact the game as she delivered a sensational cross for Hemp at the far post, though her strike was sent wide of the woodwork on the half-volley. A huge missed opportunity would come back to bite the Lionesses, as their opponents were awarded a penalty following a lengthy VAR appeal just moments later. Keira Walsh was penalised for a harsh handball offence, and Bronze’s attempts to distract Jenni Hermoso seemed to work – as the Spaniard’s powerful strike was denied by Earps.
That crucial penalty save looked to instil an air of confidence within the Lionesses, who went forwards in search of an equaliser. James looked sure to find it as she attempted to pick out the roof of the net, though a grand save from Coll saw the ball tipped over the crossbar.
Alex Greenwood was left requiring treatment – and a complete kit change – following a reckless challenge from Salma Paralluelo. Coupled with the lengthy stoppage for the prior VAR check, there would certainly be a considerable period of stoppage time.
Spain simply never looked to falter though, and flooded forwards as they looked to double their advantage. A resolute performance from Jess Carter would deny them though, but ultimately the Lionesses lacked ruthlessness in front of goal – and had paid the ultimate price.
Spain are crowned as World Champions and will look to retain that title in 2027 – hopefully free from the shackles of Jorge Vilda’s management. While it’s important to recognise this monumental Spanish success, thoughts must also go out to the three players who sacrificed their World Cup dreams as a result of alleged misconduct within the RFEF.
Sarina Wiegman and her England side will undoubtedly be gutted following the loss, but they have united the nation once more by becoming the first senior English side to compete in a World Cup Final since 1966.