Spain won their first Women's World Cup title less than a year after 15 players threatened to boycott the tournament; the victory makes La Roja the first team to hold the U17, U20 and senior world titles at the same time
Monday 21 August 2023 16:01, UK
England fell at the final hurdle, beaten narrowly by Jorge Vilda's Spain in the Women's World Cup final in Sydney - what contributed to their downfall?
Sarina Wiegman stuck. Jorge Vilda twisted. An unchanged Lionesses side, buoyed by a brilliant display against Australia in the semi-finals, entered Sunday's final brimming with confidence. Rightly so. But this game had different demands. Perhaps they required a different plan.
Vilda dropped his ace in the pack, Ballon d'Or Féminin holder Alexia Putellas, and replaced her with Salma Paralluelo, which worked perfectly. The young Barcelona forward occupied England's backline throughout, causing untold problems, dragging them this way and that.
England are well-drilled. At this tournament, they have been defensively robust and organised - not against Spain. Operating initially as wing-backs, Rachel Daly and Lucy Bronze were often caught too high, allowing for the likes of One Batlle and Olga Carmona to exploit space out wide and in behind. Cracks were beginning to show.
Full-back Bronze is an England stalwart. She'll go down in history as one of the best women's players to ever wear the national shirt - someone who has won every title available, bar the World Cup. It's bitterly cruel, then, that her mistake led to Carmona's winner.
Bronze drove upfield but ran into traffic centrally, leading to a Spain turnover and quick counter-offensive. In a flash, Carmona linked neatly with Mariona Caldentey before stroking the ball across Mary Earps into the far corner.
"The first half we struggled to press the ball," Wiegman conceded post-match. "We changed it second half, back to 4-3-3, and I think we got better momentum."
Unfortunately, by then, the damage had already been done. England's unified front ripped apart in one fell swoop.
Wiegman spoke in the preamble about England playing the game of their lives. The sentiment was echoed by captain Millie Bright. But talking the talk is one thing, walking the walk entirely another.
It wasn't for a lack of trying - endeavour and effort were there, execution less so, as Spain's precision passing and sharp movement outclassed that of England's. Not even Earps' stunning penalty save could galvanise.
"After all, Spain were just a little bit better than we were today," acknowledged Wiegman, in sporting fashion.
Vilda's side dominated the ball with intelligent passing triangles and give and goes. At times, England couldn't get near. It's not their usual approach - to play the majority of the game without the ball - and conceding so much possession seemed to unnerve England's best ball-players.
To illustrate, Keira Walsh only touched the ball 50 times - Aitana Bonmati registered 74 touches. Georgia Stanway 54 - Jenny Hermoso 73. Caldentey reached 81 out on the left wing. It was overwhelming.
Spain's fluidity and efficiency in possession was unmatched this summer, enough to ensure their shirts will now be adorned with the little gold star England's players so badly craved. They'll be back, hopefully with Wiegman still at the helm, but for now, this is Spain's time to bask in the glow of glory.
No single player won Spain the World Cup. Although, if you were attributing the success to anybody, it would be remiss to gloss over the brilliance of Bonmati.
She started all seven matches, scoring three times while providing two assists, and her numbers against England were staggering.
As well as collecting a World Cup winners medal, the magical midfielder also picked up the Golden Ball award for a string of outstanding individual displays, where she was particularly praised for her impeccable vision and timing in possession.
She was Spain's most eye-catching contributor at this tournament, off the back of a trophy-laden campaign for Barcelona, and Vilda is lucky to have her. The 25-year-old was one of 15 players who sent a letter to the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) asking not to be called up until changes were made to the national set-up - a decision she later revoked.
"We have been working in a lot of years for this moment and finally we have the trophy," Bonmati beamed after the full-time whistle.
Her class deserves the accolade of World Cup winner - it won't be the last piece of silverware on her busy mantelpiece. Step aside Putellas, Bonmati is the future of football.