England captain Millie Bright vowed the Lionesses are prepared to play the ‘game of their lives’ when they face Spain in their first World Cup final.

England could be crowned world champions for the first time since the men’s team triumphed in 1966, but on the eve of the monumental encounter the skipper’s focus was fully in the present.

And, while no one needs to explain the magnitude of the moment to the 29-year-old defender, she urged her team-mates to approach the most important match in their history no differently from any other.

Bright said: “I think for us we live in the moment, and yes it’s a World Cup final, but for us our mentality is it’s another game.

“I think our preparations don’t change no matter the stage in the tournament and to me that’s the key part of preparation.

“I want our players to prepare in any way they need to, like they normally do, and we’ve got a game plan that we have to go out and execute, but I think everyone knows how big this is.

“I think it’s been players’ dreams for years.

“We know how passionate our nation is back home and how much they want us to win. But for us, there is a process. We have a game plan to execute. We need to play the game of our lives.”

England boss Sarina Wiegman appointed Bright captain after Euro 2022-winning skipper Leah Williamson was ruled out with an anterior cruciate ligament injury ahead of the tournament.

Williamson will be in the stands on Sunday when the Lionesses walk out at the 75,000-plus seat Stadium Australia, led by Chelsea’s Bright, who insisted she would be thinking more about the squad than the symbol on her sleeve.

She said: “It’s massive, but it’s massive for the team. I think it’s always ‘we before me’ for me.

“I’ve always said, no matter whether I’ve got the armband or not, it’s a huge privilege and honour and I think it will be the biggest moment in our careers.”

England boss Sarina Wiegman has already become the first manager to lead two sides to the World Cup final after accomplishing the same feat with the Netherlands four years ago.

The enormously popular Dutchwoman also has two European championship trophies with those countries, but so far football’s most coveted title eludes her.

She said: “Playing a final is really special. I know that. I never take anything for granted.

“Playing in another is really special, but we’re just preparing for the game. Yes, it is a final, but we don’t do anything different than we do normally.

“When you go so far in the tournament people get more and more excited and that’s what you see.”

Tomorrow Wiegman faces the dilemma of whether to start forward Lauren James, who scored three times and picked up the same number of assists before she was sent off in England’s last-16 clash with Nigeria for stepping on the back of defender Michele Alozie and hit with a two-game suspension.

Replacement Ella Toone scored in England’s 3-1 semi-final victory against Australia, but serial winner Wiegman, who feels the available-again James has been sufficiently punished, could still be tempted to make a swap for the prodigious Chelsea talent.

She said: “Of course she really regretted that moment straight away. She apologised, she was punished for that and we all know this should not happen in football.

“She started training again and we supported her, because sometimes when you’re not that experienced at this level some fatigue comes in the game and you have just a split second where you lose your emotions.

“That’s a mistake, that’s a hard learning lesson, but now she’s ready to play in the game.”

Spain head coach Jorge Vilda batted away questions about his country’s absent stars on the eve of their World Cup final clash with England.

Vilda has guided Spain to their first final amid a backdrop of controversy and rows over the treatment of the team.

The showpiece game in Sydney takes place on Sunday morning, less than a year after 15 players staged a mutiny.

The arguments, which broke out in September last year, threatened to derail Spain’s hopes before an uneasy peace was brokered ahead of the World Cup.

Dubbed ‘Las 15’, the players who walked away were Patri Guijarro, Aitana Bonmati, Mapi Leon, Mariona Caldentey, Sandra Panos, Claudia Pina, Lola Gallardo, Ainhoa Moraza, Nerea Eizagirre, Amaiur Sarriegi, Lucia Garcia, Ona Batlle, Leila Ouahabi, Laia Aleixandri and Andrea Pereira.

If an accommodation has been reached, it appears to be a delicate one. Only three members of the 15 – Bonmati, Caldentey and Batlle – were included in Vilda’s squad for the finals.

Despite the unrest and uncertainty, Spain have made it through to the final following a late win over Sweden in the last four.

Asked early on at his pre-match press conference about the relations between himself and some of his players, Vilda replied: “Next question please.”

Pushed on whether not having some key players in Australia made him “sad”, Vilda seemingly ignored the line of questioning.

“What we want to do tomorrow is to be the best in the world and we’ll do this by winning the final,” he said.

Spain lost 2-1 to England after extra-time at the quarter-final of the Euros last summer as the Lionesses went on to lift the trophy on home soil, with Sarina Wiegman and her players looking to add further silverware on Sunday.

“It was a game that we know we were on top, but the result is what counts,” Vilda said of the loss at the Amex Stadium,

“Games against England really require our best. She (Wiegman) is a trainer that with her results has shown the fruits of her work, it’s not easy what she has achieved.

“You don’t achieve this without excellent preparation and star players. It will be a tactical match and it’s a final that we’re going to fight with everything.”

Sarina Wiegman says England feel buoyed by the levels of support for the team ahead of the World Cup final.

The Lionesses take on Spain on Sunday as they bid to win the trophy for the first time.

Boss Wiegman said: “It’s incredible what happened. We felt the support, we felt the support here, but also from the other side of the world in the UK. That’s something that we dream of.

“I feel privileged. I’m very happy in the place where I am now. There’s a lot of support, we have everything we need to perform at the highest level. It is a pleasure to work with these incredible people.”

Wiegman was concise when asked how the team had reintegrated Lauren James, who could start on Sunday after serving a two-match suspension following her red card against Nigeria in the last 16.

She said: “Of course she kept training and it’s really nice to have 23 players available for tomorrow.”

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.”

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What’s next?

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

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

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.”

The Lionesses will face Spain in their first-ever World Cup final this weekend after knocking tournament co-hosts Australia out of the competition on Wednesday night in Sydney.

Should the European champions succeed in lifting the trophy on Sunday, they will have to navigate their way past a Spanish side rife with talent – including nine players from 2022/23 Champions League winners Barcelona.

Here, the PA news agency looks at five players to watch when the monumental meeting kicks off in front of over 75,000 fans at 11am BST.

Lauren James

The 21-year-old forward missed England’s quarter-final and last-four ties while she served a two-match ban for a red card she was shown after stepping on the back of defender Michelle Alozie in the Lionesses’ last-16 battle with Nigeria.

Before the incident, World Cup debutant James netted three times and is still in a three-way tie for the competition’s joint assist leader with three, despite her absence.

Replacement Ella Toone scored England’s opener in their 3-1 semi-final victory, so it remains to be seen whether England manager Sarina Wiegman will risk modifying a line-up that has more recently clicked in favour of James’ early-tournament potency, or save her as a weapon off the bench.

Jennifer Hermoso

With double Ballon D’Or winner Alexia Putellas seemingly struggling with her fitness, controversial Spain head coach Jorge Vilda has benefitted from strong showings by other members of his side.

Barcelona striker Hermoso – team-mate of England’s Lucy Bronze and Keira Walsh and her side’s all-time top goal-scorer – has looked especially fearsome, scoring three times and providing two assists en route to Spain’s first World Cup final.

Team-mate Aitana Bonmati shares identical statistics, giving La Roja a potent power in attack even without Putellas on top form.

Mary Earps

Lionesses’ goalkeeper Earps could be called into action more than any other time in this tournament against Spain, who enter Sunday’s encounter with a competition-leading 17 goals.

The 30-year-old has thrived since becoming Wiegman’s first-choice between the sticks and last year was crowned the Best FIFA Women’s Goalkeeper after conceding just two goals and keeping four clean sheets across England’s Euro 2022-winning campaign.

The Manchester United shot-stopper has made some vital, potentially result-defining saves so far in this World Cup while conceding just three times –  Spain, meanwhile, have let seven in across their six matches.

Ona Batlle

You do not have to scroll far down lists of World Cup statistics before coming across Spain defender Batlle.

The former Manchester United full-back leads the competition in both passes and crosses into the penalty area and has won the most tackles, 15, of any player in the 32-team tournament.

Battle, 24, is also second to just England’s Alex Greenwood for touches taken with 37 fewer than the Lioness’ 669, and leads the competition with 34 progressive carries.

Alessia Russo

Russo got out to a quieter start to begin this World Cup after winning England’s starting centre-forward role from Women’s Super League Golden Boot winner Rachel Daly.

Her maiden World Cup goal came four minutes into England’s thumping 6-1 win over China in the group stage, an anomalous result in a campaign that had otherwise not seen the Lionesses score more than twice in a match until Russo netted late against Australia to set up the Spain showdown.

The summer Arsenal signing, who also scored the winner against Colombia in England’s 2-1 quarter-final clash, now leads the World Cup in both shots (22) and shots on target (12) and will hope at least a few more find the back of the net in Sydney on Sunday.

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.

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.

The dust has settled on Saturday’s remaining two quarter-finals and attention is now turning to the last four.

Spain, Sweden, England and Australia are the four remaining teams, meaning there will be a new name on the trophy in next Sunday’s final.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the day Down Under.

Bronze says England are ready for gold

Defender Lucy Bronze revealed England would have failed to live up to their own expectations had they not reached the World Cup semi-finals.

The Lionnesses saw off Colombia in Saturday’s quarter-final to set up Wednesday’s last-four meeting with co-hosts Australia.

Third place would see England equal their best-ever finish from eight years ago in Canada, but Bronze insisted reaching this stage for the third time in the European champions’ history was the bare minimum.

“If we hadn’t have got to the semi-final, I would have said that we would have underperformed,” said Bronze.

“A lot of people said that England were the team that were going to flop a little bit. Our performances haven’t been our best, granted, but the results have been there and we’ve got to the semi-final, which is what this England team is known for doing.

“I think the difference with this team is we have won trophies, we have won tournaments, so we do know what to do.”

Quote of the dayIlestedt laughs off Golden Boot talk

Sweden defender Amanda Ilestedt took her tally to four goals when she scored in the quarter-final win over Japan.

It took her just one behind current leader Hinata Miyazawa, who is no longer in the tournament, so she has a real chance of claiming the Golden Boot. Not bad for a centre-half.

She has downplayed her chances of finishing as top scorer, though, and just wants her team to do well.

She said on FIFA’s website: “I don’t know. I can’t even believe I’m even talking about this. I’m a defender.

“I find it funny. But as long as the team keep winning, I’m happy. It doesn’t matter who scores.”

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Semi-final: Spain v Sweden, Auckland, Tuesday 10am
Semi-final: Australia v England, Sydney, Wednesday 11am

Ireland crashed out of the Women’s World Cup after Canada came from behind to beat them 2-1 on Wednesday.

Spain and Japan reached the last 16 with a game to spare.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at all of Wednesday’s action.

Spain cruise into last 16

Jenni Hermoso and Alba Redondo scored twice as Spain thumped Zambia 5-0 to reach the last 16.

One of the tournament favourites made the knockout stages with a game to spare having already beaten Costa Rica in their first match.

Teresa Abelleira opened the scoring before Hermoso and Redondo took charge as Spain eased to victory.

Japan ease past Costa Rica

Japan also qualified for the last 16 with a routine win over Costa Rica.

Quickfire first-half goals from Hikaru Naomoto and Aoba Fujino saw the 2011 champions through.

Japan and Spain will battle it out for top spot in their final Group C game when they face each other on Monday.

Canada fight back to break Irish hearts

Ireland bowed out of the tournament after Canada came from behind to win in Group B.

Captain Katie McCabe gave Ireland the lead when she scored straight from a corner after just four minutes.

Megan Connolly’s own goal levelled just before half-time and Adriana Leon grabbed Canada’s winner eight minutes after the break.

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Group E: USA v Netherlands (2am, Wellington Regional Stadium)
Group E: Portugal v Vietnam (830am, Waikato Stadium)
Group B: Australia v Nigeria (11am, Brisbane Stadium)

Spain held their nerve to win the UEFA Nations League final by beating Croatia 5-4 on penalties after a goalless 120 minutes in Rotterdam.

Real Madrid defender Dani Carvajal converted the winning spot-kick after Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon had saved efforts from Croatia’s Lovro Majer and Bruno Petkovic.

Spain’s triumph saw them seal a fifth major trophy and become the second nation after France to have won the World Cup, European Championship and the Nations League.

Manchester City pair Rodri and Aymeric Laporte, who scored and missed for Spain respectively in the shoot-out, have won a fourth major trophy of the season.

Croatia, who beat the Netherlands 4-2 after extra time in their semi-final on Wednesday, had been hoping to win their first major tournament.

Spain did not have one shot on target in a poor first half of regulation time, while Laporte’s last-ditch tackle thwarted Andrej Kramaric, and Ivan Perisic’s header forced Simon into a diving save.

Spain went close in the 58th minute when Marco Asensio headed their best chance up to then just over from the over-lapping Jordi Alba’s cross.

Croatia responded through Mario Pasalic’s header, after another ball in from Perisic, before Spain stepped it up, with Fabian Ruiz’s chipped effort and Asensio’s shot on the turn both going close.

Spain went closest to breaking the deadlock in the 86th minute when Perisic blocked Ansu Fati’s shot on the goal-line following fellow substitute Mikel Merino’s cut-back.

Croatia substitute Majer was also denied by last-ditch defending as his shot after a counter-attack was blocked by Nacho in the first period of extra time.

Spain threw caution to the wind in the second period and finished the game on top.

Dani Olmo and Asensio had shots deflected for a corner and Rodri’s effort was blocked as the third Nations League final went to penalties, with Carvajal converting a nerveless winner.

Earlier on Sunday, Italy beat the Netherlands 3-2 in the third-place play-off in Enschede.

Roberto Mancini’s side, who sealed Nations League bronze for the second tournament running, made a flying start as Federico Dimarco and Davide Frattesi put them 2-0 up in 20 minutes.

Steven Bergwijn reduced the deficit for the Netherlands midway through the second half, but Federico Chiesa struck Italy’s third four minutes later.

Georginio Wijnaldum ensured a nervy finale with the Netherlands’ second goal in the 89th minute, but it was not enough to prevent a third defeat in four games under boss Ronald Koeman, in his second stint in charge.

Cesar Azpilicueta has hinted at a preference for Luis Enrique as Chelsea's next head coach, as the Premier League club continue their search for Graham Potter's permanent successor.

Potter was dismissed earlier this month, with the Blues turning to ex-manager Frank Lampard on an interim basis through the end of their campaign.

Several candidates are thought to be in the mix to take charge from next season, with former Barcelona and Spain boss Luis Enrique among them.

Azpilicueta played under his countryman for La Roja, and suggested he would enjoy a reunion, but also stressed he would back whatever call Chelsea make in the end.

"My best games with the national team were with Luis Enrique," he told EFE. "But there are parts [of the club] who negotiate [these things].

"We trust [them] with doing what is best for the club. We will see what happens."

Luis Enrique took charge of Spain in July 2018 following their exit from the World Cup in Russia, succeeding Fernando Hierro.

Under his leadership, La Roja reached the semi-finals of Euro 2020 and finished as runners-up in the 2021 Nations League Finals, with Azpilicueta starring in both runs.

However, a dismal campaign at the Qatar 2022 World Cup, where his side laboured in the group stage before suffering a last-16 exit to Morocco, saw him step down from his position.

Chelsea lost their first game back under Lampard, a 1-0 defeat to Wolves on Saturday, and next face Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals on Wednesday.

Former Spain and Barcelona coach Luis Enrique wants to work in England but has seemingly ruled out replacing Antonio Conte at Tottenham.

Luis Enrique parted ways with Spain after the 2022 World Cup, which saw La Roja knocked out by Morocco at the last-16 stage.

He was replaced by Luis de la Fuente, who stepped up from the Under-21s, leaving Luis Enrique back on the market.

Links to high-profile jobs have been frequent ever since, but the club he appears to have been associated with the most is Spurs, who dismissed Conte on Sunday after a week of intense speculation suggesting his time was over.

While Luis Enrique was not directly asked about Spurs during his first major interview of the year, he did express a desire to work in the Premier League.

But the fact he does not expect to be working in England even as early as July suggests the Spurs job would be a non-starter.

"I would like to go to England to work," he told Radio SER Gijon.

"But I don't see myself in the Premier League in July because I would like to go to a team there that can do important things, and that is very difficult.

"I would not go to [just] any Premier League team."

The 52-year-old has also been among the big names linked with the Brazil job, which Tite vacated following the Selecao's unsuccessful Qatar 2022 campaign.

Luis Enrique confirmed he has received offers from national teams – Brazil not being one of them – but he seems less interested in returning to the international stage.

"I don't see myself coaching Brazil," he continued. "Another coach profile fits in there better than mine.

"They haven't called me. I don't know if my style fits the best with Brazil.

"I have had offers from national teams, but not from clubs. It would have to be a very important [national] team to take it, although it would be very difficult for me to face Spain. I don't know if I would be ready."

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