Spain has claimed their first Women’s World Cup trophy, defeating European champions England 1-0 in a thrilling conclusion to a record-breaking tournament.
In front of another sold-out crowd of 75,784 in Sydney’s Stadium Australia, the two nations played with the kind of the attacking verve and prowess that led them both to a maiden tournament decider, playing out a gripping end-to-end affair with a host of scoring chances.
But despite having a penalty saved in the second half and missing a host of other chances, Spain’s exceptional passing and slick attack saw them become deserved winners of their first major women’s trophy.
“It was a really tough game, we knew it would be tricky, England have a great team, but I think it was our game,” goalscorer and captain Olga Carmona told Spanish national broadcasters La 1.
“We had the feeling we were going to do it.”
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Spain open final in sensational fashion! | 00:43
England coach Sarina Wiegman, who also lost the World Cup final four years ago when in charge of the Netherlands, said: “Overall, I think Spain were just a little better than we were today. They had a great tournament, so congrats to Spain.
“I think everyone has seen an incredible game, a very open game. Two teams that want to play football.”
For England, who won the European Championships just 12 months ago and had reached at least the semi-final at three World Cups in a row, it must feel like a missed opportunity to finally claim a first male or female World Cup since the men in 1966.
But they were struck down by a number of injuries to key players before the tournament, including Leah Williamson, Fran Kirby, and Beth Mead.
“Of course it feels really bad now. You go to the final, you want to give everything to win the final, then you lose it,” Wiegman added.
“That happens in sport.
“What we have done, how we have shown ourselves as a team, how we want to play, overcoming so many challenges, I feel we can be very proud of ourselves. Even though it doesn’t feel that way at the moment.”
England captain Millie Bright said: “We’re heartbroken. We gave everything, unfortunately we just weren’t there today.
“The girls are unbelievable. We had a lot of critics at the start of the tournament, a few lost belief in us, but we never stopped believing in ourselves.
“We had full belief, but sometimes football goes for you, sometimes it goes against you.”
Spain’s maiden trophy, meanwhile, comes despite a bitter squad schism in the last 12 months – with 15 players calling for coach Jorge Vilda to be sacked in a scathing letter last September.
He survived and only three of the 15 were selected for this World Cup, reflecting the incredible recent growth in the depth of a Spanish team that had never even won a knockout game at the World Cup before this tournament.
England hit the crossbar after a quarter of an hour before Spain missed a wide-open barely a minute later. But Spain began to control the ball and opened the scoring after half an hour through captain Olga Carmona.
Both sides continued to attack with great intensity, but it was Spain who came closest as the final kick of the half hit the post.
The second half was a much tighter affair, though each team continued to threaten in attack.
Then came an incredibly controversial moment as a five-minute VAR review resulted in a Spain penalty for a handball in the box – only for England goalkeeper Mary Earps to deny the goal with a stunning low save.
However, there was some controversy over the incident with one replay appearing to show Earps had left her line before the penalty was kicked, meaning it should have been retaken – just like Australia’s own Mackenzie Arnold faced against France in the penalty shootout.
Earps was forced into a handful of stunning saves as time wore down, but neither side could score.
Both teams were competing in their first final, with Spain now becoming just the second nation behind Germany to have won both a men’s and women’s World Cup.
After the match, Spain’s Salma Paralluelo was awarded the best young player of the tournament, while England keeper Mary Earps won the golden glove for the best goalkeeper.
But it was Spanish midfielder Aitana Bonmati who earned the golden ball for the best player overall, having been critical to their success.
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AS IT HAPPENED
After a dazzling pre-match ceremony on the field featuring Australian musician Tones & I, the match was played at a high intensity from the opening whistle, with both sides attacking with pace and defending with brutal physicality.
Spain had more of possession, as expected, but it was England’s counter-attacking danger that delivered the first golden opportunity in the 16th minute of the match when a cut-back from Rachel Daly found Lauren Hemp, who rattled the crossbar with a vicious shot.
But hardly a minute later Spain spurned an even better chance of their own. The ball went to the left and was whipped in low across the face of goal by left-back Olga Carmona, finding Alba Redondo at the back post. But with England goalkeeper Mary Earps caught out of position, Redondo could only find aim her shot in the keeper’s direction and drew a sharp save.
Both teams were regularly breaching the opposition penalty area with free-flowing attacking moves in a high-quality affair.
In the 24th minute the match was briefly halted when an anti-Russia protester charged onto the pitch during a free-kick.
But it didn’t didn’t stop Spain’s free-flowing attack from finally delivering a goal in the 29th minute.
They won the ball on the half-way line and quickly switched it to the left flank with a delightful diagonal ball from Teresa Abelleira to Mariona Caldentey. On the left edge of the area, she slid the ball to captain, Olga Carmona, who buried her shot perfectly across the keeper and into the bottom right corner.
It was England fullback Lucy Bronze who had carried the ball up the pitch before losing posssession, leaving the side short of cover as Spain rapidly transitioned.
It was only Carmona’s third goal for Spain, but her second in successive matches, having scored the winner against Sweden in the semi-final.
England threatened down the right flank at pace as the half wore on, with Alessia Russo attempting to square the ball for Ella Toone in front of goal – but putting the ball just out of reach of the midfielder who was offside regardless.
But in with the final attack of the half, Spain surged down the right flank through Ona Batlle and squared the ball to 19-year-old attacker Salma Paralluelo, but her shot bounced off the post and went out as the referee called half-time.
England coach Sara Weigman wasted no time, making a pair of substitutes at half-time, introducing Lauren James and Chloe Kelly in attack to replace Rachel Daly and Alessia Russo.
But Spain started the second half brightly and resumed their attacking assault, often camping outside England’s area and stretching the defence.
Five minutes into the second half, Caldentey danced past a couple of tacklers on the edge of the area and unleashed sensational curling shot from outside the box that drew a brilliant save from Earps to tip the ball around the post.
But England still had plenty of threat, with Kelly whipping a sublime cross from deep on the right flank in front of a charging Lauren Hemp, whose half-volley whistled past the outside of the post.
Having swapped back to a 4-3-3 formation in the second half, England then began to wrestle back momentum with a strong ten-minute period, forcing Spain to turn to their bench at the hour n=mark. Attacker Alba Redondo was replaced by the more defensive-minded Oihane Hernandez as Spain sought to shore up their advantage.
It almost delivered an immediate impact going forward, with midfielder Aitana Bonmati blasting over the bar in another scare for England.
A handful of minutes later, England’s defence of their area finally cracked. Spanish attacker Caldentey received the ball on the edge of the area, with the ball flicking into the air from her first touch. As she tried to round Kiera Walsh, the England midfielder put out her hand and it collided with the ball. After an extremely lengthy VAR review, the penalty was eventually awarded.
But England keeper Mary Earps made herself the hero with an exceptional diving save low to her left to stop the resulting attempt from Jennifer Hermoso.
It was just her second missed penalty in nine attempts for Spain dating back to 2015.
However, there was some controversy as Earps initially appeared to come off her line too early, although a split-second replay showed she had one foot in line with the goal line when she the ball was kicked.
Socceroos legend John Aloisi said on Channel 7: “I’m surprised that she didn’t get to retake this. Her feet had gone over the line before.
“You’re not allowed to move off the line early. That is why she was able to save it.”
Spain suffered another major setback in the 73rd minute when centre-back Codina was forced from the field with injury after what had been an excellent performance, including six clearances.
Chances continued to fly in in thick and fast at both ends, with Lauren James seeing an attempt from a tight angle well saved by Spain keeper Cata Coll.
The match saw another extended pause when Paralluelo’s knee struck the head of Greenwood as they both went for a high ball in the 78th minute, leaving the England player with a bleeding forehead that required some quick repairs from medical staff on the field.
The match continued to grow ever more tense and nervous, though both teams continued to pour forward in attack.
A slick passing move eventually saw Hermoso slam a shot goalwards after reaching a slick through ball on the left side of the area, only for Jess Carter to throw her body into a brilliant sliding block.
Each side continued to look to their substitutes bench in search of a crucial goal as time wore down, before a whopping 13 minutes of stoppage time was announced.
Earps was drawn into another excellent save in stoppage time to deny full-back Batlle, who caught England out as they poured too many players forward.
Both teams made fascinating selection decisions ahead of the decider, with Spain benching Alexia Putellas – the two-time reigning Ballon d’Or winner as the best player in the world.
Putellas has been struggling for full fitness since suffering an ACL over 12 months ago, but has featured in every match this tournament.
However, she was replaced in the starting line-up by 19-year-old forward Salma Paralluelo, who impressed all tournament mostly in a super-sub role.
Meanwhile, England opted against bringing Chelsea star Lauren James back into their starting line-up after she missed the last two games with suspension for a nasty stomp on a Nigeria player in the Round of 16. Ella Toone rettains her place in the starting line-up.
England XI: Earps; Carter, Bright, Greenwood; Bronze, Walsh, Stanway, Daly; Toone; Russo, Hemp.
Spain XI: Coll, Battle, Parades, Codina, Carmona, Bonmati, Abelleira, Hermoso, Caldentey, Paralluelo Redondo.
MATCH CENTRE: Live scores, updates and stats from England vs Spain
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