College Football & Soccer Analyst
SYDNEY, Australia – After Mary Earps made the save of her life in denying Jennifer Hermoso’s penalty kick, the England goalkeeper stuck out her tongue and yelled, “F— off!”
It was at that potentially momentum-swinging moment that coach Sarina Wiegman thought her side could win the World Cup.
“I thought, ‘OK, now we’re going to score a goal and get it to 1-1,'” Wiegman said. “But we didn’t.”
Spain defeated England 1-0 to win its first-ever World Cup here at Stadium Australia on Sunday night. The monumental and historic victory caps a remarkable last 12 months of highs and lows in which the nation also won the U-17 and U-20 titles, while the senior team had a near-mutiny when 15 players resigned from the national team in protest of coach Jorge Vilda.
La Roja, making the squad’s third World Cup appearance with their best finish coming in the quarterfinal four years ago, overcame every kind of obstacle and is now just the fifth nation ever to win a Women’s World Cup, joining Norway, Germany, Japan and the United States.
[Spain’s World Cup victory will usher in a new blueprint for women’s soccer]
England, also making its tournament final debut after appearing in three straight semifinals, was planning on joining those ranks heading into this showdown. Instead, the defending European champions couldn’t crack Spain’s technical game of possession and agonizingly had to watch as their opponent celebrated in golden confetti, accepted their equally golden medals and kissed the shiny golden World Cup trophy.
English players had to stay on the field for 15-20 minutes staring into space while La Roja celebrated. Spanish players were jumping up and down, hugging each other and dancing around while stadium crew members set up the trophy presentation stage.
“It’s hard to watch another team celebrate when it’s obviously your goal, your dream and your dream as a team,” Georgia Stanway said. “It’s really, really difficult.”
Manager Sarina Wiegman speaks on England’s loss to Spain in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup
Once the stage was finally put together, England captain Millie Bright led her team through a smiling Spain team that had made a parted sea of sorts for them to walk through. Bright took a deep breath and proceeded to accept her silver medal.
“If we put the ball in the back of the net, then it’s game on,” Bright said later. “But it’s football. It’s so hard.”
Not many England players stopped to speak with reporters after the match. Earps, despite winning the tournament’s Golden Glove as the top goalkeeper, kept her head down and avoided eye contact.
But English defender Lucy Bronze, who knew this opponent better than most, as nine of her club teammates for Barcelona starred for Spain, spoke for all her national team teammates who weren’t in the mood.
“Just deflated,” Bronze said. “Obviously we went into the World Cup wanting to win it and we were so close, but in the end, we couldn’t quite get it over the line.”
England’s medal ceremony following second place finish in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup
The Lionesses had energy to start and Lauren Hemp sent a rocket that hit the crossbar in the 16th minute. After that, Spain gained momentum and dictated the tempo. England’s plan of pressing high backfired – Spain pulled the Lionesses out of position and Wiegman’s team found itself in too many 1-on-1 matchups defensively and couldn’t push up quick enough in the attack.
The decisive moment came in the 29th minute when Bronze lost the ball in the midfield. Teresa Abelleira quickly took advantage and hit Mariona Caldentey on a diagonal cross, who found captain Olga Carmona streaking down the left wing. Carmona got in behind England defender Jess Carter and sent a left-footed strike whizzing into the bottom right corner of the net, just past a diving Earps.
Wiegman made a major tactical decision at halftime, shifting to a 4-3-3 formation with four defenders on the back line. She subbed on Lauren James (who was back from a two-game suspension after being issued a red card in the round of 16) and Chloe Kelly, who are ruthless in front of goal, but still no one could score.
“I thought we were much stronger and looked more threatening [in the second half],” forward Beth England said. “But ultimately we just couldn’t get it in the back of the net.”
‘It’s a proud moment’ – England’s Millie Bright after loss to Spain in World Cup Final
“They had a very good tournament and, yeah, to be really honest, I think they deserved this,” Wiegman said of Spain.
There was a bit of revenge in Spain’s triumph, as England won this matchup in the Euro quarterfinal a year ago. La Roja scored first in that game, too, before losing 2-1. The Lionesses went on to become European champions.
Winning that tournament gave England a ton of confidence heading into this summer’s World Cup. Plus, Wiegman had been in this situation before, taking the Netherlands to the final four years ago where it lost to the United States.
“Gutted, devastated,” Stanway said. “The way we played in the first half was not the England standard and then in the second half, I thought we were there. We were just unlucky not to get something.”
After the final whistle blew – and before England was forced to painfully witness Spain’s joyful celebration – Wiegman gathered her team in a huddle on the field. She told them to be proud of what they accomplished – they were leaving a legacy back home. But she also acknowledged this feeling of disappointment will take time to process and that was OK.
Players were too heartbroken and shocked in the immediate aftermath to remember what their coach said, though eventually those words will be processed.
Until then, “I think we gave everything,” England said.
“We couldn’t have given any more,” Bright said.
Spain vs. England Highlights | 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final
Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.
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