Women’s World Cup: Spain earns first title

Published 3:25 am Monday, August 21, 2023

By ANNE M. PETERSON AP Sports Writer

SYDNEY (AP) — A champion’s medal around her neck, Salma Paralluelo lay on the field for a while and nestled into the golden glitter that had fallen over Spain’s Women’s World Cup team as it celebrated a 1-0 victory over England.

Already a world champion in the Under-17 and Under-20 levels, Paralluelo took her time soaking up the atmosphere at Stadium Australia on Sunday after helping the Spanish women’s team overcome adversity to win its first senior major global title.

Olga Carmona scored in the first half of the final and Spain held on to cap the month-long tournament. Carmona’s triumph was tinged with sadness after learning of her father’s death. The Spanish soccer federation issued a statement after the match to confirm Carmona’s father had died, without giving specific details.

Overcoming the turmoil that had surrounded the team, the victory made Spain the first team to hold the under-17, under-20 and senior women’s world titles at the same time. Spain also joined Germany as the only nations to win both the men’s and women’s titles.

At the final whistle the Spanish players piled on each other in front of their goal. They were still dancing on the field before and after the trophy presentations.

“We’ve suffered a lot throughout the past 12 months but I think everything has a reason to be. This has made us a stronger team,” Carmona said soon after the game. “And it’s really incredible. I don’t know just why Spain is the world champions, but I think that we deserved it.”

The Lionesses were trying to bring a World Cup back to England for the first time since the men won it in 1966. The wait will go on.

“At first you feel like you failed with not winning,” England captain Millie Bright said. “I think in a couple of weeks and it settles, (we) will be really, really proud.”

In an open game featuring multiple chances for both teams, Carmona’s left-foot strike in the 29th minute — finishing off a fast-breaking counterattack after England’s Lucy Bronze lost possession — was the only goal.

Carmona also scored the game-winner in the 89th minute of Spain’s 2-1 semifinal victory over Sweden, becoming the first player since Carli Lloyd in 2015 to score in a World Cup semifinal and final.

Spain had a chance to double the lead in the 68th after a VAR review awarded a penalty for Keira Walsh’s handball, but Jenni Hermoso’s penalty attempt was saved by Mary Earps.

Spain’s victory comes despite a near-mutiny by players last year. Fifteen players said they were stepping away from the national team for their mental health while also calling for a more professional environment.

Three of those players — Ona Batlle, Aitana Bonmatí and Mariona Caldentey — reconciled with the federation and were at the World Cup.

The victory was also a bit of redemption for La Roja, which lost 2-1 in the quarterfinals to eventual champion England at the European championship last year.

“I think all of us, we felt that this team had something special,” Carmona said. “I believe that we’ve shown this on the field, we’ve shown this in the group stage, in the knockout stage. We’ve been fighting until the end. We never stopped.

“Last year was different, but football gives you second chances. What better chance than in a World Cup final and to be able to call ourselves world champion.”

Spain grew over the course of the tournament. After a 4-0 loss to Japan in the group stage, Spain replaced Misa Rodriguez with Cata Coll in goal. La Roja rebounded quickly by trouncing Switzerland 5-1 to kick off the knockout round and built from there.

“When we found out that we had England in the final, we analyzed them and saw how they played,” Bonmati said. “We prepared it well, we came out confident of what we were doing, of our game, of our fight, of our dedication.”

England had momentum going into the tournament after winning the Euros, but three of the team’s best players, captain Leah Williamson, Fran Kirby and Beth Mead, all had knee injuries that kept them off the World Cup squad.

Sarina Wiegman was the first coach to take her teams to back-to-back World Cup title matches. She led the Netherlands to the final in 2019, but fell 2-0 to the United States. She’s now 0-2 in the championship match.

One of England’s best chances was in the 16th when Lauren Hemp’s blast caromed off the crossbar. A minute later, Paralluelo raced toward goal but couldn’t get a clean shot and Earps stopped Alba Redondo’s attempt in the scramble in front of the net.

England was coming off a 3-1 victory over host Australia in the semifinal. Lauren James, who was the team’s top scorer with three goals and three assists, was forced to sit out two matches after being suspended for stomping on Nigeria’s Michelle Alozie to open the knockout stage.

While James was available for the final, Wiegman started Ella Toone and used James as a second-half substitute in a double change to spark the attack.

Spain coach Jorge Vilda started 19-year-old Paralluelo, who scored the breakthrough goal for Spain against Sweden, and the game-winner in extra time over the Netherlands in the quarterfinal. Those efforts helped her win the young player of the tournament award. Earps won the Golden Glove for best goalkeeper and Bonmati won the Golden Ball for best player of World Cup.

Vilda had a challenge in working around two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, who was still working her way back from a torn ACL last year. For the final, Putellas started on the bench.

Putellas went into the game with 15 seconds left in regulation, but there were 13 minutes of stoppage time. After the match Putellas was in tears as her teammates danced in front of the flag-waving fans behind the team’s bench.

There were 75,784 fans at the final at Stadium Australia, including tennis great Billie Jean King, increasing the record attendance for the tournament to more than 1.975 million.