WOMEN’S WORLD CUP: Two final débutantes, Spain / England, lock horns
Two final débutantes will go head-to-head in the culmination of the Women’s World Cup this Sunday morning when Spain tackle England at Stadium Australia in Sydney.
Spain have never before advanced past the round of 16 and England are making their first trip to the final after making the semis at the last two World Cups; however, for this matchup JustBet is offering Spain as slight favourites over their more accomplished opponents.
The majority of the first semi-final match last Tuesday (August 15) between Spain and Sweden went by without much to speak of, but three goals in the final 10 minutes set the game alight. Spanish teenager Salma Paralluelo seemed to have won it with an 81st-minute strike which broke the deadlock, only for Sweden to level with a brilliant goal from Rebecka Blomqvist in the 88th minute. Then, with extra-time fast-approaching, Spain’s response was merciless and immediate as Olga Carmona found the back of Sweden’s net with a sublime effort from the edge of the box, just 94 seconds after Sweden had equalised.
Competing at just their third World Cup and recovering from a humiliating 4-0 loss to Japan in the group stage, Spain is now within 90 minutes of winning the sport’s biggest prize. The Spaniards failed to qualify from 1991-2011 and made their World Cup debut in 2015, sputtering to a single point while finishing at the bottom of their group. In 2019, they advanced out of the group stage, only to lose a hotly contested matchup against the United States women’s national team, the eventual champions.
Since then, Spain have developed one of the most elite pipelines of talent through the country’s youth development system and top domestic clubs. They have won the last two installments of the U-17 World Cup in 2018 and 2022, as well as the U-20 World Cup in 2022. FC Barcelona, a club from which much of the Spanish first team is drawn, has won the UEFA Champions League twice out of the last three seasons.
The story of Spain’s ascension on the world stage is remarkable given the tumultuous year women’s soccer in the country has experienced. In September 2022, 15 players declared themselves unavailable for selection, in protest to the training methods of Head Coach Jorge Vilda. The Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) stood by Vilda, and some of the players, including two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, returned to the team. It speaks volumes about the depth of talent in Spain that they have reached the final without some of the country’s best players.
Spain have been very impressive at this World Cup, scoring 17 goals in six games (their only stumble being to Japan), but their elation was starkly juxtaposed with the heartbreak of the Swedes who, unfortunately, were left with a familiar feeling having now lost four World Cup semi-finals and were undone this time by Spain’s only two attempts on target.
The Matildas – Australia’s women football team – participated in a quarter-final last weekend against France, which was decided by a penalty shootout that was the longest in the history of the World Cup (men’s or women’s) as each team took 10 shots from the spot. When the dust settled, Australia became the only Women’s World Cup host nation other than the United States to reach the semi-finals.
In their semi-final on Wednesday morning, they came out flying and had the better run of play for the first 10 minutes against the Lionesses – England’s women football team. However, the English team was able to settle into the game and had several chances before Ella Toone opened the scoring in the 36th minute. It was the first time Australia had conceded first at this World Cup and they had to overcome the solid and aggressive backline of the Lionesses if there was any hope of them advancing to Sunday’s finale. They entered half-time with the 0-1 deficit.
The Matildas started the second half as well as they started the first, and a turnover by England’s Alessia Russo allowed Sam Kerr, one of the top strikers in the world, to gain possession of the ball and she unleashed a rocket from about 25 yards that went just over keeper Mary Earps’ outstretched fingertips in the 63rd minute, scoring to level the semi-final. After Australia missed several makeable chances, Lauren Hemp quickly put the Lionesses back on top with a goal in the 71st minute, with an assist from a defensive breakdown by the Matildas.
The win for England was sealed by a goal from Alessia Russo in the 86th minute – courtesy of a no-look pass from Hemp – spoiling the host nation’s party, and Prince William, who is president of England’s Football Association, added a royal-flavour as he joined a nation in celebrating the country’s first appearance in a Women’s World Cup final.
England have participated six times in the FIFA Women’s World Cup – failing to qualify only in 1991 – and reached the quarter-finals three times and the semi-finals twice. Coach Sarina Wiegman knows a bit about success at major tournaments as, following Wednesday’s semi-final win, she became the first coach, male or female, to reach a World Cup final with two different nations – having already done so with the Netherlands in 2019. She lost against the USA four years ago but will be hoping to go one better with the Lionesses this year.
As the curtains close on the Women’s World Cup, European club football is ready to kick into high gear, with the English Premier League, La Liga and Ligue 1 already started, plus the Bundesliga and Serie A start this weekend, today and Sunday, respectively.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City were crowned the Premier League champions for the third time running at the end of last season, while also lifting the FA Cup and Champions League trophies to add their name to a select group of treble winners.The signing of Norwegian striker Erling Haaland proved vital to their success, but they have lost two key players in Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez this summer that are going to be hard to replace. Plus, with Aymeric Laporte, Joao Cancelo, and Bernardo Silva still tipped to leave the club, the Citizens may need to find more reinforcements if this year’s dreams are to be realized.
Over in France, Paris Saint-Germain narrowly won Ligue 1 by a single point and, with the departure of Lionel Messi to Major League Soccer (MLS) and Neymar Junior to Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia, their stranglehold on the trophy is in serious jeopardy.Just Bet still has them as overwhelming favourites to win it all this season, but that may be a bit too ambitious.
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