A Battle of The European Powerhouses: Women’s World Cup Final
The stage is set, a rematch of the Euros 2022 quarter-final, as Spain face England in Sunday’s Women’s World Cup Final.
This is new for both teams, with neither one ever having ever made it to a world cup final. Of course, England have experience of a major tournament final last summer at a sold-out Wembley, but this will be a very different ball game on the world stage.
This world cup has been full of surprises and continuing in this vein, a surprise to many was Spain making this final. It has been widely reported that Spain have had off-the-field problems with their federation and coaching which caused many to withdraw from the team including Barcelona superstars Mapi Leon, Patri Guijarro and Sandra Panos. With such absences, there were many questions about how the team would perform, their cohesiveness and fluidity on the pitch.
To add to these questions, they lost 4-0 to a very good Japan team early on in the group stages which exposed some cracks in the team’s ability to defend the counterattack. Yet, they have consistently found ways to win with creative play and ruthlessness from every player, firing shots from all areas of the pitch.
Contributing to Spain’s success has been the shining talent of Salma Paralluelo, who scored the game-winner against the Netherlands in the quarter-final, and opened the scoring against Sweden in the semi-final, propelling her team to victory in both. This is incredible form for any player, but especially a young 19-year-old who only made her international debut in November of 2022. She has a great balance of speed, a calmness on the ball and superb technical ability that makes her such a threatening player. The team will be looking for her to perform in the big moment as she already has done throughout this tournament. But the biggest question will be if she starts over Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, or comes off the bench as a super sub. Either way she will be a key player in this final.
Spain will be looking to wear England down with their possession-based, tika taka style of play. They are the team in the tournament with the most passes and the most shots, they are not afraid to play it long, have great crosses into the box but also have multiple players on the pitch who can shoot from anywhere. This Spain team play with flair and technical brilliance, and this has only improved as they’ve grown into the tournament, often leaving teams on the back-foot as they struggle to nullify the Spanish attacking threats. If England allows them to settle into this style of play they too could find themselves on the back-foot.
But what is great about this England team, and what we have seen throughout this tournament, is that they are adaptable. They no doubt faced challenges early on in this tournament, but Wiegman’s ‘tactical genius’ has so far seen them jump over every hurdle they have faced. Whilst England, like Spain, most often like to play an organised and possession-based style, they are happy and certainly more than capable of playing on the counter. They have the speed to bring the ball up the pitch, and plenty of attacking options to get on the end of crosses and score.
This England team have found their form at the perfect time, much like they did in the Euros. After a cagey start in Wednesday’s semi-final game against Australia, they put away two amazing goals and an impressive defensive performance. The change in formation following the red card of Lauren James in the round of 16 has played dividends and the two upfront strikers have been prolific in their goal-scoring capabilities and creativity in crafting chances. If these two continue in this form in Sunday’s final, England will be very threatening and will cause Spain’s backline a lot of trouble.
A big question on everyone’s mind going into this final is whether to start Lauren James after serving her two-match ban. James was in top form before the send-off in the Nigeria game, tallying up three goals and three assists in three games. But in her absence Ella Toone has come into the starting lineup and really stepped up when it counted most, opening the scoring in the semi-final against Australia with a stunning goal. Wiegman places huge value on consistency so we may likely see Toone starting to provide that stability in what could be a tense game. But with such a technical talent in Lauren James and also the super sub of the century, Chloe Kelly, England’s bench could be the deciding factor in this game.
As we’ve learnt in this tournament, expect the unexpected. Either of these teams could win this tournament and it will be fascinating to see who comes out on top. To watch the final, tune into BBC One at 11am on Sunday 20th August, you don’t want to miss it!