England’s Lionesses came into the World Cup final after dumping the hosts, Australia, out in the semi-final. In their way of the trophy, Jorge Vilda’s Spain side. Sarah Weismann had a bold choice to make, with Lauren James’ suspension up. Was she to start? No. James started on the bench as it was an unchanged side from the 3-1 semi-final victory. Having missed Leah Williamson through her injury, Marry Bright was the woman who’d be in the spotlight, as she would be the one who could lift the trophy. Midfielder Kiera Walsh and wingback Lucy Bronze faced off against their club teammates, with the Spanish goalkeeper and centre backs all playing for Barcelona. Up top, youngster Salma Paralluelo, at just 19, started ahead of two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas.
With the national anthems out of the way, the 2023 Women’s World Cup final was underway. It was a battling start by Manchester City’s Lauren Hemp as she threw herself into a tackle with Irene Paredes. Coming off worse, she was able to dust herself down and get back up, as she’d be key in the attacking play for the Lionesses.
She showed her importance almost immediately. Barcelona’s Lucy Bronze rifled a long throw into the box, to cause panic for the Spanish back line. Failing to clear, it dropped to Hemp, who was able to fire an effort at goal, but it was only a simple save for Catalina Coll. The pressure was on Coll and the Spanish defence early on, as England came forward. This time, it was Georgia Stanway pulling the strings. She put in a cross, which was half cleared by Spain. Daly picked up the loose ball and teed up Hemp effortlessly, who cannoned an effort off the crossbar.
When Spain did get forward, they were dangerous. Mariona Caldentey, operating down the left, drove at the defence, exploiting the space left by Lucy Bronze. A driven ball across the box was a great one, with Salma Paralluelo inches away from turning it. Following in at the back post, Redondo fired an effort in, looking to wrong foot Mary Earps, only for the English keeper to be on hand to perform a great save. The Spanish started to show their danger as they zipped the ball around and shut down any England play.
Just before the half-hour mark, the breakthrough came. Wingback Lucy Bronze looked to venture but only lost the ball and invited the Spaniards forward. It was Captain Olga Carmona who used the save to drive into the box. Overlapping Caldentey, she looked up and drove an effort across the box and into the far corner. It was a lack of concentration from the Lionesses as they conceded possession in their own half and ultimately paid the price.
Spain take the lead
With the lead, Spain stepped up their game. Pressing relentlessly, the Lionesses could not get time on the ball. After winning a free kick, the Spaniards looked to cause danger. Delivered in, Millie Bright was first to the hall and headed clear. It fell kindly for Paredes, who smashed a left-footed effort at goal only to see it snatch wide of the target, as England survived yet another scare.
With the half coming to an end, and just 1 minute added on, Spain had a final first half chance. Youngster Salma Paralluelo raced forward, looking up at Mary Earps, standing tall in her goal. She struck, and it was low and hard. Somehow, her effort clipped the post as it ran out for a goal kick. The 19-year-old held her head in her hands after the golden chance went begging.
With that final chance, the referee concluded the first half with Spain being the ones leading through their captain’s strike midway through the half.
Sarah Weigman had clearly seen enough. Halftime substitutions were made. Lauren James has three goals and three assists in four games since her suspension was served. With her, the scorer of the winner in the 2022 Euros final, Chloe Kelly, was introduced. Off went Rachel Daly and Alessia Russo, as England looked to get themselves back into the final tie.
Chloe Kelly was involved at the wrong end early on, as the winger rushed back to defend. After successfully winning the ball back, she could only give it away. It was Caldentey who picked it up, dancing through the England defenders before looking to bend an effort into the far corner. Mary Earps stretched well and tipped her effort around the post, to give Spain a corner. It was delivered in with Millie Bright winning the first ball to send behind for another corner. This time, the delivery was poor, as it went straight out for a goal kick.
Chloe Kelly involved
Finally getting involved in a forward position, Chloe Kelly caused danger. From the right, she crossed low and deep, straight to Hemp. However, the effort came off Hemp’s shin, and I saw it skim wide of the post as there was no true effort. Hemp then found the book, showing her frustration. Going in on Codina, she was deemed to have been too forced as the referee took her name.
The dangerous Redondo was subbed off for Spain with just under half an hour to play. However, the Spanish were still able to flow forward and did so. Driving into the box, Codina tiptoed around players and claimed a handball. With the ball going out of play, the VAR took centre stage. Barcelona’s Kiera Walsh had barged in, seeing the ball spin up and hit her hand.
Ultimately, VAR did its job, and a penalty was rightfully awarded. Jennifer Hermoso was the woman with all the eyes on her. After some gamesmanship from Lucy Bronze, the referee blew her whistle, and Hermoso struck. Low, hard, bottom right. Mary Earps, low, stretched, bottom right. A great save from Earps, who issued some kind words to Hermoso as she roared in happiness, kept the Lionesses in the game.
From one end to another, Lauren James looked to cause danger. She drifted in behind the back line and looked to catch the keeper out. Smashing towards the near post, she forced a great save, seeing the ball tip over the bar.
Salma Paralluelo then caught Alex Greenwood nastily, with her knee colliding with Greenwood’s head. After the delay, and a change of shorts and top, Greenwood was bandaged up and played on. However, with not long to go, a final throw of the dice saw Ella Toone withdrawn as Bethany England entered the World Cup final.
The Late Game Drama for England
As we entered the 13 minutes added on, Spain continued their attacking flurry. This time, Hermoso was seemingly in as she drew back and looked to hit home. Carter was the hero this time, as she flew across the box and made a vital interception. A late Spanish change introduced the reigning Ballon d’Or winner, Alexia Putellas, as she looked to help wrap up the World Cup for her country.
The attacking play was flowing for Spain, as they broke in behind the England back line, with Millie Bright operating as a makeshift striker. Batlle slipped in behind her, and her eyes lit up, as she was one on one. However, once again, Mary Earps produced an outstanding save as she kept England in the game for just a little longer.
The minutes trailed away in injury time, as the Lionesses turned to last-ditch defence to deny Spain any chances. Going forward, it was too short for England, as they couldn’t seem to string the passes together to break the Spanish down.
A valiant attempt by England
However, it just wasn’t to be for the Lionesses. The Spanish took their first World Cup win, with some questionable officiating taking centre stage. American referee Tori Penso seemed to enjoy taking centre stage as many fans questioned her decisions throughout the game.
However, the Spanish battled hard, and they took the trophy home as they celebrated in Australia, their first Women’s World Cup title ever.