After almost four weeks of football and 62 games so far, we only have two games left and we have two finalists going head-to-head to lift the 2023 World Cup.
The traditional third place qualifier will take place in Brisbane on Saturday before the flamboyant final on Sunday decides who will be this year’s world champion. Regardless, it will be a new name in the cup as both Spain and England have not won the competition before.
It was undoubtedly a tournament to remember. With record viewership figures and some of the most dramatic moments the sport has ever seen, interest in the women’s game appears to be at an all-time high. Not only did the fans watch TV all over the world, but the fans in the stadium loved every second, and we saw some of the highest attendances in history. In two countries where interest in stereotypical football is pretty low, the Australians and Kiwis did their best to prove it wrong.
“Australia is not recognized as a football country, in fact many of our Matildas play overseas,” explained Maddie Date, producer of ABC Illawarra, “so it was incredible to have this level of growth right now and so many eyes across the globe. There will be a lot more football fans in Australia in the coming years and I think that was the whole point of the tournament being here.”
But now there are only two teams left and after many interruptions in their preparation, Spain took the challenge and made their World Cup final for the first time. Headlines surrounding La Roja ahead of the tournament were marred by the split between 15 top players and coach Jorge Vilda. ‘Las 15’ was the name given to the group of players who believed Vilda was too authoritarian and that their training and tactical standards were not the same as at their club.
Of the 15 players involved in this dispute, only three were on the roster, but they were crucial players for Spain in this tournament. Centre-back Irene Paredes played a key role on the way to the final, along with midfielders Aintana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas. Bonmatí in particular was outstanding and in talks for the player of the tournament.
The only time Spain have disbanded so far was in the last group match, where they failed to live up to Japan’s counter-attacking style of play. Despite being solid defensively for the remainder of the tournament, there is no doubt that their Sydney rivals will be looking at this Japanese performance to assess how they can use Spain’s vulnerability to fast-paced football.
They will face England. Having reached the semi-finals twice in a row in the previous tournaments, the European champions had the chance to reach the final for the third time this year. Their form is exciting under manager Sarina Wiegman and they will want to add a World Cup to this European crown.
A 1-0 win in their opening game against the world’s 53rd-ranked team, Haiti, raised several questions. England looked tense and many assumed they would win this match quite comfortably. However, doubts were quickly dispelled as more convincing wins against Denmark and China led England to advance the group on their way to win by the maximum points.
Then came the mission, which turned out to be the toughest mission of the tournament so far. The Lionesses were dominated by Nigeria for 120 minutes and saw star striker Lauren James expelled for violent behavior. However, they managed to keep their courage and the score line at 0-0 and secured their way to the quarter-finals on penalties. Wins against Colombia and host Australia earned them their spot in Sunday’s final.
Psychologically, England will be helped by beating Spain in the quarter-finals in their Euro victory last summer, with a fantastic shot from midfielder Georgia Stanway. But in 2022 they had the help of a host fan behind them. The situation may be different in Sydney, where many Spanish fans take to a more neutral field to support their team. But Wiegman’s team has a fully formed roster and the suspended James will be back.
England will go to the Australian Stadium on Sunday as the heavy favorites due to the disruption of Spain’s preparations before the tournament and the inequality between the teams in terms of experience. But La Roja has already proven that anything is possible, so we’re ready for a finale that will be a classic no matter what.