Sydney, Australia – Spain won the Women’s World Cup for the first time in their history with skipper Olga Carmona striking in the first half for a deserved 1-0 victory over England in Sunday’s final.
The gripping encounter was a fitting conclusion to a tournament in Australia and New Zealand which has broken records and will be remembered for how the supposed minnows closed the gap on the sides at the top.
In front of a packed crowd of nearly 76,000 at Stadium Australia in Sydney, Spain were the more accomplished side and had more chances, including missing a second-half penalty.
Spain’s triumph was vindication for Jorge Vilda and the Spanish football federation, who stuck with the coach even after 15 players last year said they no longer wanted to represent their country under him.
Defender Carmona scored what turned out to be the winner, rampaging from left-back to thrash the ball in low and hard on 29 minutes past England goalkeeper Mary Earps.
“It’s difficult to describe, immense joy, I’m so proud of this team,” said the 42-year-old Vilda, who was accused of being too strict, among a litany of complaints.
There was a smattering of boos when his image was put up at Stadium Australia during the game and again when he strode up to the podium before Spain lifted the trophy.
“I’m so happy for everyone watching us right now, we’ve made them happy too. We’re champions of the world,” added Vilda, who recalled three of the 15 mutineers for the tournament but left several top players at home.
England coach Sarina Wiegman has now suffered back-to-back defeats in the final, and her European champions can have few complaints.
In front of the watching Queen Letizia, Spain won a penalty 20 minutes from the end when Keira Walsh was ruled to have handled in the box after a long VAR review.
But Jennifer Hermoso’s weak penalty was easily saved by Earps to give England a lifeline and keep alive their dreams of winning the World Cup for the first time.
But if anything, Spain looked the more likely to score again.
Spain’s players raced off the bench at the final whistle, while England’s players were left distraught, some with their heads in their hands and others in tears.
Spain are the fifth team to lift the World Cup since the tournament began in 1991, joining outgoing champions the United States, Germany, Norway and Japan.
Wiegman, who suffered agony in the final four years ago when her Netherlands team lost 2-0 to the United States, had been aiming to join Alf Ramsey — the only other manager to win a World Cup for England.
She admitted that Spain, who had never won a World Cup knockout game until this tournament, were the better team.
“Of course it feels really bad now. You go to the final, you want to give everything to win the final, then you lose it,” said the Dutch coach, who took England to their first major title last summer by winning their home Euros.
“What we have done, how we have shown ourselves as a team, how we want to play, overcoming so many challenges, I feel we can be very proud of ourselves, even though it doesn’t feel that way at the moment,” she added.
Aitana Bonmati, one of the original refuseniks who returned for the World Cup, won the Golden Ball for the best player at the tournament while Japan’s Hinata Miyazawa took the Golden Boot as top-scorer with five goals.
Earps, who was kept busy for much of the evening by a slick Spain, won the Golden Glove as best goalkeeper.
The 19-year-old Spain attacker Salma Paralluelo, who replaced reigning two-times Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas in Spain’s starting line-up, was named best young player.
Women’s football still faces a battle for equality with the men’s game and several teams at the World Cup were in open dispute with their federations over pay and conditions.
Off the pitch, the biggest Women’s World Cup in history, with 32 teams, was the best-attended ever and most games were played in front of bumper crowds.
On it, a tournament full of surprises signalled the end of the United States’ long reign as the superpower of women’s football as their dreams of an unprecedented third title in a row came to an end in the last 16, their earliest exit ever.
Sweden, who dumped out the Americans on penalties, finished third after beating Australia 2-0 on Saturday.
The Matildas had the consolation of capturing the hearts of the home nation, their exploits in reaching the semi-finals for the first time splashed across the front and back pages of local newspapers on an almost daily basis.