The ninth edition of the Women’s World Cup is almost over with only the final left to play.

A new winner will be crowned when England and Spain do battle in Sydney on Sunday.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at what we learned from this tournament.

USA dominance over

USA have been the leading force in women’s football for the past few decades, winning the previous two World Cups and claiming three gold medals at the Olympics, but they suffered a shock defeat to Sweden in the last 16 in Melbourne.

A number of other nations made early exits, including Olympic champions Canada going out in the group stage along with Euros runners-up Germany, but it was USA’s penalty shoot-out loss which caused the most astonishment.

With Megan Rapinoe retiring and other stalwarts Alex Morgan, Kelley O’Hara and Alyssa Naeher unlikely to play at another World Cup, it finally feels safe to say USA’s glittering era is over despite the excitement around Sophia Smith.

Year of the underdog!

 

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Along with USA leaving the tournament early on, a number of emerging nations made their mark in Australia and New Zealand with South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco and Jamacia all making the knock-out stages.

Morocco qualified through Group H at the expense of Germany, who had thumped the African outfit 6-0 at the start of the World Cup. The Moroccan players were crowded around a phone watching the final seconds of Germany’s draw with South Korea before erupting in celebration.

Their journey only lasted until the last-16 stage and it was the same for South Africa and Nigeria but never before had three African countries all made the knock-out phase. Meanwhile, Jamaica were able to send Brazil packing in the group stage. It helped to highlight the growing depth in the women’s international game.

England’s golden generation

England were close to exiting this World Cup against Nigeria after Lauren James’ red card, but Mary Earps and heroic defending was followed by shoot-out success to send them through to the quarter-finals.

The European Championship winners would have always hoped to go deep in this tournament, but a tricky draw on paper and injuries to Beth Mead, Fran Kirby and Leah Williamson alongside the retirement of several key players last summer could easily have resulted in a poor showing.

In serial winner Sarina Wiegman and a group of players with incredible resolve and belief, England have managed to break new ground to reach a first World Cup final and given so many of this squad are in their twenties, it feels whatever happens on Sunday the Lionesses are ready to be the country to beat over the coming years.

Glass ceiling smashed!

Records have tumbled during this tournament co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. The bigger than usual format of 32 teams has resulted in more games and while plenty of drama has followed, the quality of football on show has helped to ensure ticket sales and TV viewing figures continue to go through the roof.

A whopping attendance of 75,784 has been recorded three times at Sydney’s Stadium Australia and according to FIFA, the average crowd across the 10 venues has been 28,900. A big increase from the previous edition in France or any other World Cup, but the world has also tuned in.

Despite matches usually being played outside of prime-time slots, Fox still had 2.52 million viewers watch USA’s last-16 defeat on penalties to Sweden, which kicked off at 5am in the Eastern time zone of the United States. BBC One had 7.3 million viewers watch England’s semi-final win over Australia and millions also turned on the TVs in Brazil, Colombia and China for matches containing their respective countries.

Room for improvement

 

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There is still plenty of work to achieve in the women’s game though, with the build-up to this World Cup dogged by controversy and several countries playing amid the backdrop of internal tension, which should not be the case when players get the chance to perform on the biggest of stages.

FIFA faced criticism for its ‘Unite’ armbands, which were similar to the OneLove armband banned, but did not promote LGBTQ+ communities. The governing body also found itself in a storm for almost allowing Saudi Arabia to sponsor the tournament and president Gianni Infantino’s peripheral role at this World Cup compared to the men’s edition in Qatar.

Meanwhile, Spain’s presence in the final will conjure mixed emotions after several of their own players threatened to quit international football if head coach Jorge Vilda did not leave his position, citing the impact his regime had on their “emotional state” but he remained. Hati and Zambia’s participation in this World Cup occurred amidst sexual misconduct allegations against staff to highlight the hurdles still facing elite women footballers.

Sweden struck in either half to retain their World Cup best of the rest status with victory over co-hosts Australia in the third-place play-off.

A Fridolina Rolfo penalty and fine Kosovare Asllani strike secured a 2-0 win for Sweden, who never looked in danger of losing to the home favourites in Brisbane.

Peter Gerhardsson’s side responded magnificently to their last-minute semi-final exit at the hands of Spain, outclassing Australia to win the third-place play-off for the fourth time in their history.

Sweden started quickly and set out their stall early on as Arsenal forward Stina Blackstenius got in on goal within the opening two minutes, her low shot turned away by Mackenzie Arnold.

Just as the hosts looked to be getting a foothold in the game, Sweden would take the lead as a penalty was awarded following a lengthy VAR review of Clare Hunt’s trip of Blackstenius’ trailing leg.

Rolfo, who scored the winner when the two nations met in the 2020 Olympics semi-finals, made no mistake from the spot with Arnold beaten despite diving the right way.

Sweden came close to doubling their lead in first-half stoppage time but a fine low save from Arnold kept out a Filippa Angeldahl strike that flashed through a crowded penalty area.

Having beaten England to finish third four years ago in France, Sweden all-but secured another bronze medal as they widened the margin just after the hour.

A pacey counter-attack saw Blackstenius shake off the attentions of the Australia defence before squaring for Asllani to hit one of the goals of the tournament, beating Arnold with a strike from the edge of the box.

Any hopes that Australia could launch an unlikely comeback suffered a blow when captain Sam Kerr hobbled off for treatment on her foot.

The Chelsea striker suffered a calf injury on the eve of the finals, dampening her impact as she was not fit enough to start a game until the semi-final loss to England.

She returned to the pitch but, by that stage, Sweden were in control of the tie and left the home fans cheering a valiant effort from Australia, who had to settle for fourth place.

England’s countdown towards the World Cup final against Spain continues with expectations rising at home as well as for Lionesses fans Down Under.

Elsewhere, Sweden and co-hosts Australia are getting set to battle it out for a third-place finish.

Here, the PA news agency looks at all the latest news heading into the final weekend of the showpiece tournament.

Russo at the ready

Alessia Russo cannot wait to kick off England’s World Cup final – after years spent rehearsing the winning strike in her childhood garden.

On Sunday night in Sydney, the Lionesses could become the first England team to bring football ‘home’ since Sir Alf Ramsey and his men lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy in 1966.

“Obviously this is the biggest game, the one you dream about and means the most,” said Arsenal forward Russo, who scored England’s third goal to seal a 3-1 semi-final win over Australia on Wednesday.

“I think it will hit when we’re in the tunnel and ready to walk out.

“It’s an incredible occasion, it’s been an unbelievable tournament and this is it. This is the moment we want to be in. We can’t wait.”

Sarina staying put

Sarina Wiegman intends to stay put as England boss amidst rumours the Dutch coach could be tempted into the recently vacated United States manager’s chair.

On Thursday, US Soccer announced Vlatko Andonovski would step down by mutual agreement following a disappointing World Cup campaign that saw the double-defending champions knocked out by Sweden for a worst-ever last-16 finish.

Along with Chelsea manager Emma Hayes, Wiegman finds herself already among the names tipped to fill the vacancy.

The 53-year-old Dutchwoman, though, issued a reassuring update as she prepared to lead the Lionesses into their first World Cup final.

“I’m staying out of that. I’ve heard it (rumours). I’m with England, I’m really happy with England and I have a contract until 2025,” Wiegman said.

“I’m really enjoying my job and I have the impression that people still like me doing that job. I have no plans to leave.”

Kerr targets bronze

Sam Kerr is determined to salvage third place for Australia to reward fans after their dream of lifting the Women’s World Cup on home turf was ended.

A superb strike from Kerr was in vain in Wednesday’s semi-final against England as Australia fell to a 3-1 defeat – leaving the vast majority of the 75,000 fans in Sydney disappointed.

“The support we’ve had has been amazing and we’ll do everything we can at the weekend to get those fans third place,” said Chelsea forward Kerr, who has been battling a calf strain throughout the tournament.

“The amount of people who’ve come out to support us, who’ve been there at our hotel, I’ll say it again: it’s been amazing. We never could have dreamed about this kind of support.

“We have to pick ourselves up and go again. And we’re going to do everything to win third.”

Open up!

Pubs across England are hoping a minister’s letter to councils across England means venues can open early for the World Cup final on Sunday.

Current regulations mean the sale of alcohol is widely prohibited before 10am on Sunday, but venues such as pubs also have specific hours they can stay open and serve alcohol depending on individual licences.

Pub bosses have warned that those licensing rules mean some venues will be unable to serve pints or open early for excited fans on the day.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove has written to councils across England to do everything they can to help venues seeking to extend their hours for the game.

“The whole nation is ready to get behind the Lionesses this Sunday in what is England’s biggest game since 1966,” levelling up secretary Mr Gove said.

“I’ve asked councils to do everything they can to help pubs get open earlier on Sunday, so people can come together and enjoy a drink before kick-off for this special occasion.”

Daily Social

 

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What’s next?

Third-place play-off: Sweden v Australia (Brisbane, Saturday 0900BST)

Final: Spain v England (Sydney, Sunday 1100BST)

Chelsea boss Emma Hayes refused to step on England manager Sarina Wiegman’s toes when asked if Lauren James should return to the Lionesses’ starting line-up for Sunday’s World Cup final against Spain.

The 21-year-old Blues forward scored three goals and picked up the same number of assists before she was sent off in the Lionesses’ last-16 victory over Nigeria and given a two-match ban for stepping on the back of defender Michelle Alozie.

Having served her punishment during the quarter- and semi-finals, James is now available to reclaim her spot in Wiegman’s starting XI – but she remains in competition with replacement Ella Toone, who netted the Lionesses’ opener in their 3-1 last-four victory to eliminate co-hosts Australia.

James’ club boss Hayes said: “I think you know, I’m a manager but picking someone else’s team is not my job. It’s Sarina’s. My job is to enjoy it. Those players are prepared for whatever happens and for whatever team Sarina picks. I’m sure Lauren would be ready.

“Lauren is just very excited to be in a World Cup final as all of the England players are. They are all excited.

“It’s about England as a team and England as a whole and they have all stepped up and filled in, whether that’s Katie Zelem who filled in for Keira Walsh or Ella Toone at least filling in for Lauren James after that quarter-final.

“Lauren is an outstanding player and will go on to contribute many more moments for both club and country. As always she will be reflective and will move forward with that.”

James, who apologised for the red-card incident on social media, came off the bench in England’s 1-0 Haiti opener to kick-start their undefeated path to the final, then scored the winner against Denmark in her first World Cup start.

She bagged a brace in the Lionesses’ thumping 6-1 win over China to conclude the group stage, also assisting three goals in that rout.

James’ stock has risen under the watchful eye of Hayes, who has won the Women’s Super League (WSL) manager of the year award six times, including the past four seasons, and predicted her Chelsea charge would be vital to the European champions’ hopes of lifting a first World Cup.

Hayes was named FIFA’s best manager in the women’s game in 2021, succeeding Wiegman, who has now won the award three times after also receiving the honour following England’s Euro 2022 triumph.

It is no surprise, then, that both women’s names have been floated as potential candidates to take over the US women’s team, a role made vacant on Thursday after US Soccer announced the federation and Vlatko Andonovski had agreed to part ways.

The decision came after the FIFA world number one-ranked Americans not only failed to defend their back-to-back titles, but were knocked out by Sweden in a last-16 penalty shootout for their worst-ever finish.

Hayes, who has managed Chelsea since 2012, said: “I suspected that question would come up.

“I’m very happy at Chelsea, I’ve made that clear. I’ve been there for 11 years, it’s my home. I think the US has wonderful players and perhaps the tournament didn’t go the way they wanted but my focus is on getting home and preparing the team for the start of the season.”

Plans to honour the Lionesses with a statue outside Wembley Stadium have progressed, Football Association chief Mark Bullingham says.

Bullingham was speaking down the road from the team’s tournament base in Terrigal, New South Wales, three nights before first-time World Cup finalists England will play Spain for the title.

The Lionesses secured their first major trophy at last summer’s European Championships and could add another 13 months later with victory in Sydney on Sunday.

Bullingham said: “In terms of statues it’s something we are looking at post Euros (2022), we’ve made progress on that, and it would be right to have something to commemorate that success outside Wembley.

“We’ve made progress with the discussions but I don’t think we can announce any more than that yet.

“There are many stages you’ve got to get through – we’ve managed to get through the first stage.

“You have to go through various permissions – we’ve gone through that. The next stage is working on the design.”

Who will feature and how remains up in the air, though Bullingham added: “Our starting point was more for plans around a collective but we’ll see what design ideas come up, and you can imagine the iconic images that came out of the Euros.

“There’s some brilliant things which could be produced. Our starting point is that it’s a brilliant team.”

The time-scale for the statue’s erection is also unknown and, said Bullingham, “out of our hands” as the process also involves Brent Council, although he remains optimistic further progress is imminent.

Before the World Cup, England captain Millie Bright tweeted a statement, signed by her team-mates, outlining the players’ disappointment over the fact that an ongoing dispute with the FA over bonus payments and commercial structures had not been solved.

In the statement, the Lionesses promised to “pause discussions, with full intentions of revisiting them following the tournament,” adding, “We collectively feel a strong sense of responsibility to grow the game. And while our focus now switches fully to the tournament ahead, we believe every tackle, pass and goal will contribute to the work we are committed to doing off the pitch”.

FIFA announced its new prize money structure for this World Cup in early June, just under a month before England flew to Australia to begin pre-tournament training and preparation.

An increased prize pot of 110 million US dollars (£84.2m) came after an open letter to FIFA signed by 150 players from 25 national teams called for equal conditions and a guarantee that at least 30 per cent of prize money would be allocated to players.

For the first time, FIFA has earmarked specific amounts for each player, increasing the deeper their team goes in the tournament, though the funds will ultimately still be distributed to federations to then allocate.

Each player on Sunday’s World Cup-winning team is set to receive $270,000 (£211,785), while the runners-up will get $195,000 (£152,813) apiece.

The Lionesses want more than that, with countries including two-time champions the United States offering additional match bonuses.

Bullingham said: “We’re sorting it after the tournament. I think they have a very strong case before, a very strong case after but the reality is, there’s a discussion to be had.

“There wasn’t a lot of time before the tournament, FIFA announced the prize money very late and a completely different model that led to a different type of discussion so it just means there wasn’t a lot of time. It’s more time being an issue rather than anything else.”

The Lionesses’ Euro 2022 triumph captivated the country and drove both spectators and participants to girls’ and women’s football in record numbers, while the Women’s Super League (WSL) and Championship are on target to move out from under the FA umbrella and into an independent club-owned structure next summer.

Bullingham was optimistic about the future of the English women’s game, but pragmatically pointed out commercial investment still lags behind the eye-watering sums funnelled to the men.

He added: “I know people always think if you win a tournament you can flick a switch and you can get multi-million pound deals flying in the door. That isn’t the reality (though) we’d love it to be.”

Spain progressed into the final of a Women’s World Cup for the first time in their history with a 2-1 victory over Sweden.

Jorge Vilda’s side will face England on Sunday after the Lionesses earned a 3-1 over Australia on Wednesday.

Here the PA news agency looks at Spain’s route to the final.

Solid start ended emphatically by Japan

Spain cruised through their opening two group games, with a 3-0 win over Costa Rica followed by a 5-0 drubbing of Zambia which safely secured a passage through to the knockout stages. But, in their final group game came a surprise 4-0 loss to Japan, with three first-half goals preceding Mina Tanaka’s 82nd-minute effort. After eight goals in two games, conceding none, few would have predicted such a comprehensive loss for Spain in their final group game. The defeat prompted changes, the most notable of which was goalkeeper Cata Coll replacing Misa Rodriguez.

Switzerland brushed aside

Switzerland next up looked a tougher challenge but they were no match for the Spaniards, who scored five on their way to victory. Aitana Bonmati’s opener five minutes into the contest was cancelled out in unbelievable fashion when Laia Codina’s backpass rifled past Coll to make it 1-1. But Spain’s procession resumed with three more first-half goals, with Alba Redondo and Bonmati breaking through, before Codina put one into the right net. Jennifer Hermoso added a fifth to secure victory in style.

Extra-time for Netherlands

The quarter-finals threw up a tricky tie against the Netherlands, who had scored 11 goals prior to this game, and Spain had to work to ensure their place in the semi-finals for the first time in their history. Dominating possession and attempts, Spain battered down the Dutch door and looked like they had their all-important winner in the 81st minute when Mariona Caldente scored from the penalty spot after a handball VAR review. However, Stefanie van der Gragt’s equaliser in stoppage time sent the game to extra time, during which Salma Paralluelo secured their place in the last four in stunning fashion.

Late heartbreak for Sweden

Sweden, who earlier knocked out reigning and defending champions United States came into the semi-final with all the momentum but that did not deter Spain as a game of few big chances sparked to light in the final 10 minutes. Vilda’s team found the opener in the 81st minute through Paralluelo’s drilled effort from close range but Sweden thought they had sent the game to extra-time when Rebecka Blomqvist expertly finished past Coll to make it 1-1 in the 88th minute. However, just one minute later, Spain regained their advantage as Olga Carmona rifled Spain into the final.

England are into the Women’s World Cup final for the first time after beating Australia in the semi-final on Wednesday.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at other English teams who have made World Cup finals in a number of different sports.

1966 World Cup final

England produced arguably their greatest ever day in sport when they won the World Cup on home soil in 1966. Sir Geoff Hurst has gone into folklore for scoring a hat-trick in a 4-2 extra-time win over West Germany at Wembley. It remains the men’s team only visit to the biggest game in football.

2019 Cricket World Cup

Eoin Morgan’s side ended a 27-year exile from the showpiece match of cricket’s 50-over format when they took on New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup final at Lord’s. One of the great spectacles unfolded as England got their hands on the trophy for the first time by the “barest of margins” with a boundary count win after a super over, thanks largely to the heroics of Ben Stokes.

2017 Women’s Cricket World Cup

The men followed in their women counterparts’ footsteps from two years earlier. With popularity in the women’s game exploding, England seized their moment on home soil by beating India by nine runs in a nerve-shredding victory at the home of cricket, with Anya Shrubsole taking the decisive wicket.

2003 Rugby World Cup

Twelve years after losing to Australia, England were back in the Rugby World Cup final, this time Down Under and Clive Woodward’s men cemented their position as arguably the best side this country has had. England never seem to do things the easy way in a World Cup final, whatever the sport, with Jonny Wilkinson’s last-gasp drop-goal sealing glory against the hosts.

2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup

Getting to the final of the Women’s World Cup was nothing new, but in 2014 England won it for the first time. They beat Canada 21-9 in Paris, with Emily Scarratt the hero, posting 16 points in a player of the match performance.

Football Association chief executive Mark Bullingham would not rule out the possibility that Lionesses boss Sarina Wiegman could one day lead the England men’s team.

The 53-year-old’s stock as a serial winner has risen steadily since securing the European championship trophy with her native Netherlands in 2017, then doing the same with England last summer.

She has now guided England to a first-ever World Cup final, in the process becoming the only manager to do so with two different nations in the women’s showpiece after steering her home country to the same stage four years ago.

Asked if Wiegman could be seen as a potential successor to Gareth Southgate, Bullingham said: “I think it’s a bit disrespectful of the Lionesses to project it as a step up. People always say it is ‘the best man for the job’ or ‘the best Englishman’.

“Why does it have to be a man? I think our answer is always it’s the best person for the job. We think Sarina is doing a great job and hope she continues doing it for a long time.”

Pressed as to whether England was ready to have a woman in the top men’s seat, he added: “I think football is behind other sports in terms of lack of female coaches at the top level, and that has to change.

“Do I think Sarina could do any job in football? Yes, I do. I’m really happy with the job she’s doing and I hope she stays doing that job for a long time. If at some point in the future she decides she wants to move into the men’s game, that would be a really interesting discussion but that’s for her, right?

“I don’t think we should view it as a step up. If she decides at some point in the future to go in a different direction, I think she’s perfectly capable.

“If and when we get a vacancy in either of our senior men’s or women’s manager positions, we would go for the best person for the job, which would be the best person capable of winning matches.”

Wiegman’s current contract runs out in the summer of 2025, which would see her through England’s European title defence, with next summer’s Paris 2024 Olympics a possibility – though not a guarantee – should the new Nations League result in a qualification for Team GB.

The rampant rumour mill has Wiegman shortlisted as a potential candidate to replace United States boss Vlatko Andonovski, who is expected to step down after the double-defending champions were knocked out by Sweden for a worst-ever last-16 finish.

Wiegman has a strong affinity for the United States, where she played for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels and was awed by the infrastructure that already existed around women’s football in late-1980s America.

But asked if the FA would reject an approach should the United States come courting the three-time FIFA Best award winner, Bullingham instantly replied: “100 per cent. It is not about money. We are very, very happy with her and we feel she is happy.

“We’ve seen lots of rumours, and look, she is a special talent. We know that. From our side, she’s obviously contracted through until 2025. We think she’s doing a great job. We’re obviously huge supporters of her and I think hopefully she feels the same way.”

Bullingham said the FA would wait until after Wiegman takes a well-deserved post-tournament holiday before striking up any conversations about extending her stay at St George’s Park.

While Bullingham believes Wiegman could have any job in football, he admitted it could still be some time before an England women’s manager would be compensated equally to his or her men’s counterpart.

He added: “I think over time, I think there’s where you’ve got to get to. If you look at the disparity in the market and the income coming in, that’s why you’ve got a difference.

“I would say that Sarina is, within the market she operates, well-paid. And if you look at the comparison in the men’s game, it’s a different market. I really want those markets to merge, over time, and I think that’s where you’ve got to go, but we’re not there yet.”

Rachel Daly’s former school teacher has hailed the Lioness as a “one-off” player as England aim for World Cup glory on Sunday.

Sarina Wiegman’s side reached their first ever World Cup final with a 3-1 win against co-hosts Australia on Wednesday in front of 75,784 in Sydney.

Aston Villa forward Daly, the WSL’s top scorer last season, has played a key part in their campaign – often featuring at wing-back for the side and scored in England’s 6-1 victory against China in the group stages.

The 31-year-old started her career at Killinghall Nomads in Yorkshire and Michael Sweetman, who was her teacher at Rossett School, admitted her mental and physical attributes stood out from an early age.

 

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Mr Sweetman told the PA news agency: “She was a one-off, she was completely different and the attributes she had, those winning attributes, it’s just pure focus on winning the game.

“It can in some ways not be great, but on a football pitch it’s ideal, it’s perfect. She’s been a success at every team she’s played in and that’s why I think, but she had the physical attributes as well.

“She wasn’t amazingly quick or amazingly fit, but she just played the game. Her touch was amazing, she was strong and nothing fazed her.

“She could take a boot, get up and get on with it. She’s skilful, she’d play up front or in midfield for me and she scored two or three a game.”

England are aiming to achieve back-to-back success in a major tournament final after their European Championship win at Wembley last year.

Daly was part of that Lionesses squad and Mr Sweetman reflected on how far she has come in her England career.

“I definitely believed she’d play for England, whether I believed she’d get to a World Cup final I don’t think you could ever comprehend that really,” he added.

“You just want your kids to achieve the best they can be, so to get to England is great.

“I actually rang the FA when she was 14 and asked them to come down and watch her. They came down to a final at Harrogate Town and we beat a school in York 5-0 I think, she scored two and that was the start of it.”

Beginning her domestic career with Leeds, Daly moved over to America to play in college for St John’s University and was selected by the Houston Dash the 2016 NWSL draft.

She spent six seasons in Texas before moving to the Women’s Super League last year to play for Aston Villa, where she instantly made a mark in her debut season finishing with 22 goals.

Those performances earned Daly the Barclays WSL’s Player of the Season award and on Wednesday she was nominated for the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award.

Mr Sweetman expressed his pride at her success, adding: “I don’t want to say I feel responsible, because I’m not, I was a small part for five years and basically I just let her play.

“The only thing I did differently was that football was just developing at the time.

“They were trying to say that there may be careers ahead and if you can keep playing, keep improving on your game maybe you could go to America or you could do this or you could do that.

“I never say I was responsible but the only thing I did let her do was let her play football with the boys in PE.

“You don’t feel responsible, but there is a sense of pride that one of your kids that you did your best to nurture during those years is playing at the highest level.”

England head coach Sarina Wiegman and Spain boss Jorge Vilda will lead their teams into the Women’s World Cup final in Sydney on Sunday.

Here, the PA news agency takes a closer look at the two coaches.

Dutch courage brings England Euro joy

Having guided her native Netherlands to success at Euro 2017 and then on into final of the 2019 World Cup, where they lost to the United States, Wiegman took over the Lionesses in September 2021. Wiegman – a former captain of the Dutch national team during her playing career and also having a spell as a PE teacher – went on to lead England to Euro 2022 glory on home soil with victory over Germany at Wembley last summer. The only defeat so far of Wiegman’s tenure came in a friendly against Australia at Brentford in April – and England fans will be hoping that impressive run is extended again on Sunday.

Vilda steadies ship after player unrest

Vilda had spells in the youth set-ups at both Real Madrid and Barcelona, but saw his dreams of a playing career cut short by two major knee injuries when he was 17. Having moved into a coaching role at CD Canillas in Madrid, Vilda held assistant roles with Spain’s Under-17s and Under-19s, enjoying success in their European Championship and World Cup campaigns. He was appointed senior head coach of the women’s national team in 2015, taking them into the Euro 2017 quarter-finals and also the World Cup, where they reached the last 16. Following Euro 2022, where La Roja were beaten by hosts England in the quarter-finals, a group of 15 players threatened to quit if Vilda remained in his position, claiming his regime was affecting their “health” and “emotional state”. He, though, was backed by the Spanish Football Federation, with the players subsequently frozen out of his squad, before some returned to the fold for the World Cup, including Aitana Bonmati, Ona Batlle and Mariona Caldentey.

Same again for Lionesses?

Wiegman named an unchanged side for the 3-1 semi-final win over against Australia. Her faith proved well-founded as England stepped up to the challenge of restricting the counter-attack threat of the Matildas, although there was little the well-drilled defence could do to prevent Sam Kerr crashing in a fine 25-yard equaliser. England had plenty of possession against Australia, particularly in the first half, and will certainly need to show similar bravery in their challenges against the Spaniards. Some ruthless finishing saw Ella Toone, Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo all on the scoresheet on Tuesday – and more of the same will be needed in the final when clear chances are expected to be at a premium. Chelsea forward Lauren James will be available again following a two-game ban following her red card in the last-16 win over Nigeria, handing a potential selection headache for Wiegman.

La Roja’s own ‘Total Football’

Vilda grew up steeped in Johan Cruyff’s football philosophy, with his father Angel having worked as the late Dutchman’s fitness trainer at Barcelona. Based around a 4-3-3 possession-based game, Vilda wants his team to play with a distinctly recognisable style. That belief never waivered as Spain bounced back from a 4-0 humbling by Group C winners Japan to thrash Switzerland 5-1 as they booked a place in the last eight, then went on to beat the Netherlands after extra-time before defeating Sweden in Auckland. England should expect to face high-tempo passing and movement as well as a relentless press in attack. Alexia Putellas, twice a Ballon d’Or winner, continues to be used sparingly in the tournament, having worked her way back from an ACL injury which ruled her out of Euro 2022. Teenager Salma Paralluelo came off the bench to open the scoring in the semi-final against Sweden and the 19-year-old will be out to prove herself the woman for the big occasion once more if given another opportunity by Vilda on Sunday.

Lauren Hemp hailed England as “a special team” and Ella Toone toasted the best shot of her life after the Lionesses reached their first World Cup final with a 3-1 victory over co-hosts Australia.

Hemp restored England’s lead in the second half, after Matildas captain Sam Kerr cancelled out Toone’s stunning opener, and provided the assist that allowed Alessia Russo to put the game away after 86 minutes.

England, who will face Spain in Sunday’s showdown in Sydney, are just one win away from securing the second major trophy in their history just under 13 months after becoming European champions at Wembley.

 

Player-of-the-match Hemp, who started every game of that triumph, said: “Oh my god, what a feeling. I feel like there are no words to describe what we all feel right now.

“It’s an unbelievable achievement, getting to a World Cup final. It’s every kid’s dream. I mean, I’ve got no words, I’m absolutely knackered right now. We’ve got a few days to recover but then we go again.

“We want to win this, obviously we’ve come so far now, so why not?

“I feel like as a team we have got such an inner-belief and also so much confidence as the group. No matter what happens on the outside, no matter who we come up against, every challenge we’ve managed to solve.

“I feel like this team is so special. You saw last year how successful we were. We want to do the same again and we want to go one step further.

“We have all got a dream. We’re pushing each other to be the best that we can and we know that whenever a player gets beaten by their opponent, we know there will be someone there, having each others’ backs, no matter what.”

World number four England have grown into this tournament since eking out a 1-0 win against Haiti, 49 places below them in FIFA’s global rankings, to open their campaign – sparking concerns about the Lionesses’ prowess in attack.

Russo and Hemp have netted three goals each in this tournament, equalling the contribution made by Chelsea forward Lauren James before she was sent off late in the second half of England’s victory over Nigeria in the last 16.

England have never had two different players score three or more goals at a single edition of the tournament before, with James also set to be available for Sunday’s final after serving the second match of her two-game suspension on Wednesday night.

That might put Toone’s chances of starting the final at risk, but the Manchester United midfielder could not have done any more to impress head coach Sarina Wiegman, lashing in a thunderous strike to set England on their way in Sydney.

“It fell straight to me in the box and I just thought ‘why not just smack it?’ Honestly, that’s the best shot I’ve hit in my life,” said Toone, who scored the opener in last summer’s Euro 2022 final triumph.

“Sometimes when you hit a ball, you just know I’ve caught that perfectly and I was like ‘wow, that was alright’. I think I knew as soon as it left my boot that it was going to end up in the back of the net.

“It seems to be I like the big stage in tournaments, but in tournament football it is often about taking those moments and it was my turn to do so tonight.

“I had my moment, it fell to me and I put it in the back of the net. Even if I hadn’t scored, I would still have done my job for this team, worked hard and did what I needed to do.

“When big moments fall to me in tournaments, I’ve taken them.”

England secured a 3-1 victory over home favourites Australia to reach the Women’s World Cup final.

Having fallen at the semi-final stage in the previous two tournaments, the Lionesses are now beginning preparations for Sunday’s showpiece against Spain.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at how Sarina Wiegman’s European champions saw off the Matildas to make history.

Toone on song

Having been criticised for her form earlier in the competition, Manchester United attacking midfielder Toone set England on their way with a fine opening goal.

In doing so, she became the first player in England history – male or female – to score goals in a quarter-final, semi-final and final of a
major tournament after enjoying a fine Euros last year.

Lauren Hemp scored the second before supplying a fine assist for Alessia Russo to wrap up the famous win, but Toone’s strike set the tone and she will be hoping to keep her place against Spain despite Lauren James returning from suspension.

Kerr-tains for hosts

Chelsea striker Sam Kerr was fit enough to start for Australia as the lethal finisher aimed to fire the Matildas into a first-ever final.

She equalised with a long-range effort that clipped off club-mate Millie Bright to beat Mary Earps and give the hosts hope of turning the game around.

However, she then wasted two gilt-edged chances to put Australia in front – heading over and then blazing high just moments before Russo struck to make sure of England’s spot in the final.

Post of the dayQuote of the dayWhat’s next?

Third-place play-off: Sweden v Australia (Brisbane, Saturday 0900BST)
Final: Spain v England (Sydney, Sunday 1100BST)

Lauren Hemp’s second-half strike helped fire England into their first World Cup final as the Lionesses sealed a 3-1 victory over co-hosts Australia in front of a sold-out crowd in Sydney.

Ella Toone, who replaced the suspended Lauren James for England’s quarter-final win over Colombia, netted 36 minutes into her second start of the tournament in front of a crowd of 75,784.

Australia captain Sam Kerr, making her first start of competition, equalised for the first-time semi-finalists with a stunning individual goal after the break before Hemp put England back out in front.

Alessia Russo added another late in the second half to cap off the historic encounter and set up an all-European final showdown against Spain on Sunday night in Sydney.

England are now one win away from lifting two major trophies in just under 13 months after their triumph at last summer’s European Championships, while Australia will play Sweden for third place in Brisbane on Saturday.

Beth Mead pointed to early World Cup exits for Germany and Brazil as a reminder that results trump performances after England scrapped their way to Wednesday’s semi-final meeting with Australia.

The Lionesses were far from their best in the group stage but emerged with three wins, a pattern that has continued into the knockout rounds as they narrowly edged past Nigeria and Colombia despite starting as heavy favourites to set up the meeting with the co-hosts in Sydney.

Much-fancied Germany, who Sarina Wiegman’s side beat in the European Championship final at Wembley a year ago, were surprisingly dumped out of the tournament at the first hurdle after losing to Colombia and failing to beat South Korea.

South American champions Brazil went out at the same stage after they were held to a surprise goalless draw by Jamaica, making only their second World Cup appearance, in their final game.

And Mead called for England’s critics to put the team’s own performances, which have failed to convince at times despite seeing the side progress to a third straight semi-final, in the context of illustrious rivals who failed to overcome the emerging nations of women’s football.

“You’re never going to play a perfect game every game,” she told the PA news agency whilst attending a McDonald’s Fun Football session ahead of the semi-final. McDonald’s has given 50,000 children access to free football throughout the summer.

“In the Euros, we grew into the tournament and I think it’s the same at the moment.

“We didn’t play our best game in the first two matches and still came away with two victories, in comparison to Germany or Brazil who got knocked out in the group stage. You don’t need to be firing on all cylinders if you’re winning games and getting momentum.

“But fans have an expectation of us to be playing 10 out of 10 every time we get on the football pitch. Unfortunately that’s not football. The opposition make it hard for you.

“But the girls are in a good place. We’ve made it to a semi-final and haven’t actually played our best football. It’s exciting to know they can still get to another level against Australia.”

Mead, who won the Golden Boot as the Lionesses were victorious at Euro 2022 but was ruled out of the World Cup with an ACL injury, pointed to defender Alex Greenwood as England’s standout performer at the tournament so far.

The Manchester City player has made the most interceptions of any player involved across all teams competing in Australia and New Zealand as well as the most touches and the highest number of passes.

Against Australia she is set to start in a back three alongside Chelsea pair Jess Carter and captain Millie Bright, and Mead is hopeful that the club connection will help give them the edge over fellow Blue Sam Kerr.

Australia’s all-time top scorer made her first appearance of the tournament as a late substitute during the last-16 win against Denmark after missing the group stage with a calf injury, coming off the bench once more against France, and coach Tony Gustavasson has hinted she may be used as an impact substitute against the Lionesses.

“Whether Sam Kerr is fully fit or not, she only needs one chance to score a goal,” said Mead. “The England players know that, Millie Bright plays with her every week at Chelsea and knows the ability that she has.

“She’s a player that can stay concentrated and in the game for 90 minutes, we’ve learned that the hard way over the years.

“They’ll have her locked in their sights for the full game. We need to keep her under wraps, we can’t give her a sniff on goal.

“But Alex Greenwood has made more interceptions than any other player at the tournament. She’s got a wand of a left foot and is under-rated in this team.”

Of the continued growth and popularity of the women’s game in England she added: “You can see that by the fact that McDonalds Fun Football sessions are oversubscribed by 160 per cent, it’s great to see first-hand how the next generation have been galvanised by the team.”

The club president of a university football club said the “Lionesses are paving the way” for young girls to have a career in women’s football.

Layana Sasieddine, a student at Imperial College London and club president of the women’s university football team in their upcoming season, said it is “inspiring” for any female footballer to see “there actually is a future” in the sport.

The bio-engineering student said the university society has grown from 60 to 100 members in the last year following the success of the Lionesses, saying there is a “spotlight” on the sport that was not there before.

Ms Sasieddine, 21, who was born in Lebanon but relocated to London to attend university, said her home country does not have the “support or resources” for women to develop careers in football, but she feels the Lionesses are paving the way for young girls in the UK.

“These little girls right now that are watching the Lionesses, you can see all that passion in them going towards the players,” Ms Sasieddine told the PA news agency.

“These girls are going to stick to football, play football and develop at such a young age – that’s something we didn’t have a few years ago.

“And that’s all due to the Lionesses winning and getting that exposure and really paving the way for all these little girls.”

Ms Sasieddine said her society, which has three teams ranging from beginners to advanced players, has grown in membership following the success of the Lionesses.

“We’re hoping that it’s going to continue, and I really believe that if the Lionesses win, it’s going to have a major impact on the UK and little girls playing football.

“Being able to see this change and these accomplishments is very inspiring, because women’s football didn’t have that spotlight before.

“It’s great for any female footballer to see that change and to see that there actually is a future in women’s football.”

Having grown up in Lebanon, Ms Sasieddine said she missed the opportunity to pursue a career in the sport, saying she “didn’t know that women’s football clubs existed”.

“I did not get the opportunity to start (playing) at a younger age, I started when I was about 14.

“I wish I started when I was like five or six, because I really believe that I would have liked to go pro or have a career, but at a younger age that was never an option for me.

“I didn’t know that women’s football clubs existed.”

Ms Sasieddine added that there was no female team at her school in Lebanon so she tried to start her own when she was in high school, but it ceased to exist after she left.

“It’s still tough, it took me a while to find female clubs – there were a few – but it wasn’t very accessible,” she said.

“It’s a bit odd for girls to play football still.

“We do have the national team, but there’s not enough support and resources to develop players for them to reach this type of level.”

She said if she had decided to develop her skills in the UK, she “could have made a career”, adding: “Little girls in London would have way more opportunities to develop, reach that level and actually make a living.”

Ms Sasieddine said that her university society has been trying to watch every World Cup game together, either in person or over the phone.

“I’m hoping that the Lionesses winning pushes more women to join a football society, or continue their career and journeys,” she said.

“The Lionesses reaching the semi-finals is a big deal.”

Of England’s semi-final match against Australia on Wednesday, she said: “Everyone’s behind the Lionesses.

“It would really mean a lot if they reached the final and win it – we’re all behind them.”

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