THE BIG PICTURE: So, what happens now? The tournament no one wanted to end is over, but the final, an absorbing all-European affair won 1-0 by Spain over England, sets the stage for what comes next, writes David Weiner from Stadium Australia.
For a tournament the world, and the host nations, fell in love with, fittingly a side that played simply irresistible football has been crowned champions.
In a tournament that has changed the sport forever, it fittingly ushered in a new era, with Spain conquering the world for the first time ever.
And for a tournament that has been thrillingly unpredictable, we’ve been left with the biggest irony of all. This has been a tournament of falling in love with football and being swept away by the story line; after knocking out the hosts, the reigning European champions must have felt this was their moment for football to come home after 57 years.
Yet, a side engulfed by off-field controversy and a player mutiny that festered as a sub-plot all tournament, left some global superstars watching on from holiday and saw World Cup winning boss Jorge Vilda booed every time he came on screen, are champions of the world. Indeed, on the full-time whistle, the coaches celebrated, and the players were many a mile away. In a tournament seen as such a breakthrough for women’s football – and football, period – a team of stars with a golden generation of talent have triumphed despite a turbulent 12 months in the build up at loggerheads with their federation.
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CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD! Spain defeat England in epic conclusion to 2023 World Cup
Nothing knows drama like football, and nothing elevates it more than a FIFA World Cup – probably why this tournament was such a thrilling success irrespective of the turbocharge the Matildas gave it. It was a month that left the likes of the United States and Germany licking their wounds, which helped us celebrate the gap closing through the likes of the Phillipines, New Zealand, Colombia, Morocco, Jamaica, South Africa and South Korea. And which saw, cruelly, Sarina Wiegman fall at the final hurdle again, after taking Netherlands to the 2019 decider in France.
This final, Europe’s ascension to the top of the women’s football pyramid, was a fittingly gripping encounter. It started a thrill a minute, as Lauren Hemp clattered the woodwork, and Mary Earps scrambled brilliantly to thwart Alba Redondo after another sweeping move. Deep into 13 minutes of stoppage time, Alex Greenwood and Oihane Hernández were still sprinting toe-to-toe like it was minute one. Earps was still making thrilling stops.
Spain opened the scoring in the 29th minute but the game was always on a knife’s edge.
England out manoeuvred the Matildas five nights ago, but at Stadium Australia on Sunday, the Spaniards had an answer for anything.
Even when you thought that Earps’ second-half penalty save, after Kiera Walsh’s handball, would open the door for an equaliser to send the tournament none of us wanted to end into extra-time, it did not.
Send on Lauren James and Chloe Kelly at half-time? Astutely manage the game and take the sting away whenever England roused.
See Lucy Bronze surge into the middle of the park? Swarm her with six shirts, and within four passes, celebrate a 1-0 lead via a brilliant Olga Carmona strike. She had scored once for her country prior to this week; now she has a World Cup semi-final and final goal to her name.
Send five blue shirts to box them into a corner? Play out with panache. Jenni Hermosa, Teresa Abelleira and the Golden Ball winner Aitana Bonmati. What a joy.
“Aitana Bonmati is a football player who has me completely in love with her for the way she plays,” Pep Guardiola told reporters earlier this week.
“I would say she is like the women’s (Andrés) Iniesta playing for Barcelona. The current Barcelona team has made an incredible impact on the women’s team in football.”
The comparison is more poignant now, given the role the 25-year-old played on football’s biggest stage. She didn’t score the winner, like Iniesta in 2010, but she played a pivotal role in Spanish football breaking a new frontier.
So, as Spain celebrate, what do we do now? What will football fans do with themselves after this out of body experience of uniting an entire country transfixed by our beautiful game?
Cliches have dominated the analysis of this tournament, and it is hard to argue with them. The Matildas captured the imagination. Young boys and girls literally are dreaming of being the next Samantha Kerr. Football stopped the nation; more than that, it bonded Australia in a way we have not experienced for some time.
The world got to know us, reminded again of our hospitality and ability to fire up for sporting events. But if football opened the world’s eyes back to Australia, Australians also finally came to understand the power of football and why its drama is unparalleled. Inject it once, and you’ll never look back.
It has also set an agenda. For the first time many who have worshipped this game can remember, the bandwagon has come with political clout. Platitudes are being called out. Statues and keys to cities are nice, but the $200m federal government investment for female sport needs to be the beginning.
This is the sport that is the gateway to the world; if the Matildas have nudged the podium without the investment and focus enjoyed in Europe or the States, imagine what Australia’s most participated sport can generate. The imperative to seize the moment is almighty, to be critical of ourselves and drive outcomes on and off the park. Europe woke from its slumber over the last 10 years. Now, it is our turn.
In the meantime, though, there are smaller steps.
Over to Matildas and Western United midfielder Chloe Logarzo, one of the stars of the Women’s World Cup off the park through the media coverage, to explain.
“It is just a nod in the direction we are appreciating women’s football, we want to be able to capitalise off this FIFA Women’s World Cup – we didn’t just have it here because it was going to be the standalone tournament, we wanted this to be able to ignite something that is going to spark sport in Australia,” she said on KEEPUP’s Dub at the Cup.
“You’ve seen the incredible support…it is over 60% of Australia that watched that one game (against England). If we could get a small percentage of that to come on board to the A-League, it would be incredible
“I’ve talked about the connection the Matildas have brought people, the love and connection people have brought people you can see in the grandstand, that’s the same in the A-League.
“All the players in the Matildas now have had a part of this league…in the last 16 years it hasn’t been amazing…so what is the possibility if we do get the right investment, the support, where could the Matildas be in the years to come? There is no ceiling, I am so excited to know we are here.”