World Cup: Lionesses miss opportunity to cement legend status
As the full-time whistle blew in Sydney and the Lionesses fell to the ground, many in tears, it seemed the Lionesses had missed their best opportunity to win a Women’s World Cup.
Before the match, optimism swept England – they were European champions and had lost only once in 38 games under manager Sarina Wiegman, widely regarded as the best female coach in the world.
As a team, they overcame serious injuries and a two-match suspension for Lauren James to reach the final, overcoming obstacles, grinding out results, and finding ways to win even when they weren’t at their best.
The luck of England had run out, Wiegman’s genius had been tested to its limits, and they came up against a much better team.
Even before they kicked a ball, Spain’s talent was undeniable. Among their starting XI in June were seven players who won Barcelona’s second Women’s Champions League title.
As she hadn’t yet returned to full fitness, Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas was on the bench. Despite this, some stars were missing from Australia due to a dispute between 15 players and the Spanish football federation.
The result was that England entered the final knowing it would be a tough match but full of confidence – they had defeated Spain in the quarter-finals en route to winning Euro 2022.
Defending champions the United States had been eliminated in the last 16, European giants Germany had not even made it through the group stages, and Sweden had beaten Japan. Isn’t this the year England goes all the way?
After seeing off Colombia and co-hosts Australia in the previous eight days, they arrived in Sydney again. This time the 75,000 crowd supported Wiegman’s starting XI, even though he named the same starting XI.
Five minutes after kickoff, “En-ger-land” and “It’s Coming Home” chants could be heard after Lauren Hemp bounced back from a crunching tackle from Irene Parades and forced Cata Coll to save.
The game seemed to be going well until hemp smashed an effort off the crossbar.
Then Spain showed up. After surviving England’s intense start, they quickly found the openings behind their press.
With one-touch passing, neat flicks, a few nutmegs, and intelligent movement, Spain caused England so many problems that by halftime, with England trailing 1-0, it felt like a letdown.
It was Wiegman’s moment to shine, and she acted quickly. With Alessia Russo and Rachel Daly on the sidelines, Chloe Kelly and James replaced Alessia Russo and Rachel Daly as she switched formations from a defensive back three to the proven 4-3-3 she has used for two years.