FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023: England v Spain final – what you need to know
European champions England have the opportunity to create history for the second time in just over a year when they take on Spain in the Women’s World Cup final in Sydney on Sunday.
The Lionesses will look to claim the title for the first time, as well as become the first England team since 1966 to win a senior final on the world stage.
Standing in their way is a Spain side, also playing in their maiden final, with some 75,000 fans expected at Stadium Australia starting at 10pm NZT.
* LIVE: RNZ will be live-blogging the final tonight online from 10pm.
The winners will become the fifth different nation to be crowned world champions in the ninth edition of the tournament.
The United States (four times), Germany (two times), Norway and Japan are the only other winners.
New Zealand gets ready for endgame
Palmerston North will be cheering on Spain in tonight’s FIFA final against England in Sydney, despite being reportedly snubbed by its women’s football team.
The Spanish players and their family members relocated to Wellington ahead of their match against Japan.
One media outlet claimed they left because there wasn’t enough to do in the Manawatu city.
Mayor Grant Smith said that is not true and he wishes them all the best tonight.
“It’s fantastic that Spain’s made the final, certainly the city or the majority of people in the city would be behind Spain.
“So look, we’re hoping they go all the way. We’re going to throw a party for them they win the game.”
Smith said Palmerston North is a great regional city and he would welcome the team back to enjoy it.
England fans are also gearing up for a big night.
Holly Quinn, the manager of the Speakers’ Corner Ale House on Auckland’s North Shore, is expecting a busy night.
“We’re hoping to have quite a few people in. A lot of people have been calling and asking if we were showing the match tonight.
“It’s really an awesome time. It’s a good up for the women’s football and it’s awesome that so many people are interested in watching it.”
Quinn said the tournament has probably attracted more customers on match days.
A former Football Fern veteran believes England may have the edge going into tonight’s final.
Sarah Gregorius, who played 100 games for the Football Ferns, said it is set for an incredible matchup.
“Both teams are in new territory but I do think England shade it in terms of big tournament experience. They had the Euros last year, they’ve played in semifinals before.
“I think for me, England shade it a little bit for that experience and the fact that they’ve got a coach with an unbelievable amount of experience as well.”
Gregorius said the tournament had a fairytale start with the win over Norway.
“It was incredibly exciting and then if you weren’t in the stadium you were going to have a serious case of FOMO.
“I think New Zealanders would have got through the gates anyway. I mean, the fact that the records have been broke after that game in terms of attendance at Eden Park is again, such an incredible sign, but I do think we got the ultimate shot in the arm.”
England get ready
“Everyone’s talking about 1966, so let’s be at our best on Sunday and try and be successful,” said England manager Sarina Wiegman.
“Making a final is special but with this team and the challenges we had, how we find a way all the time to solve problems has been amazing – [it’s] very special being in a final but now we want to win it too.”
The Lionesses, who will be wearing their blue kit, are going for world glory 13 months after defeating Germany at Wembley to win the European Championship for the first time.
Will Lionesses clear final hurdle?
While England’s path to the Euro 2022 crown was fairly serene, their journey to the World Cup final has been anything but.
They lost three stars of that triumph to knee injuries prior to this tournament – Leah Williamson, Beth Mead and Fran Kirby – while they have also been tested in Australia, losing key players Keira Walsh and Lauren James to injury and suspension respectively and coming through a penalty shootout against Nigeria.
But Wiegman’s side have been calm under pressure and they have been behind for just seven minutes – against Colombia in the quarter-finals.
Meanwhile, Walsh only missed one game after her injury was not as bad as first feared and James is available for the final after serving her two-match ban for stamping on Nigeria’s Michelle Alozie.
Wiegman will have to decide whether to stick with the line-up which performed so impressively in the 3-1 semi-final win over Australia, or bring back James, who was England’s best player at the tournament before her red card.
Captain Millie Bright, who was given the armband for the World Cup after the injury to Williamson, said: “It’s a dream come true to be in the World Cup final. Leading the girls out is a special feeling.
“We have got a game plan that we have to go out and execute. Everyone knows how big this is. We know how passionate our nation is back home and how much they want us to win.”
La Roja put controversy to one side
Against a backdrop of unrest, disharmony, and a 4-0 defeat by Japan in the group stage, it is remarkable that Spain, who are ranked sixth in the world – two places below England – have managed to reach the final.
Reports of a rift between boss Jorge Vilda and his players have followed La Roja all the way in this tournament.
La Roja, appearing in just their third World Cup, have impressed since that heavy defeat by Japan, knocking out Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden.
Centre-back Irene Paredes said: “Spain has always been a football loving country but it was not our space, or at least that’s how they made us feel.
“We want to play football and [those who came before us] pushed so they invested more in women’s football. We have the opportunity to play in a final of a World Cup. It is the time to enjoy it.”
The majority of their squad is made up of players from Champions League winners Barcelona, including 2021 and 2022 Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas.
However it is 19-year-old forward Salma Paralluelo who has stolen the headlines, following up her winning goal in the quarter-final against the Netherlands by scoring against Sweden in the semi-finals, both times after coming on a substitute.
Battle of the bosses – Wiegman v Vilda
While England boss Wiegman has rightly won widespread plaudits for uniting her squad and taking them to the next level, Spain head coach Vilda has been surrounded by controversy since a player revolt last September.
The Dutchwoman has reached a fourth major tournament final in a row, having won back-to-back Euros with the Netherlands and England, either side of a World Cup final defeat with her native country at the 2019 World Cup.
The only defeat of Wiegman’s 38-game reign with the Lionesses so far came in a friendly against Australia at Brentford in April – and she has won 18 out of 19 matches at major tournaments as a manager.
Vilda, meanwhile, has been involved in a feud with 15 of his players amid reports of concern over training methods and inadequate game preparation.
A stand-off ensued and only three of those players were included in his World Cup squad, meaning some world-class talent such as Champions League winners Patri Guijarro, Mapi Leon and Claudia Pina were left at home.
England and Spain have never faced each other at a World Cup, while the Lionesses have only lost two of their past 13 games in all competitions against La Roja (winning seven and drawing the other four).
Their most recent meeting came in the quarter-finals at Euro 2022, when England needed a late equaliser from Ella Toone and an extra-time winner from Georgia Stanway to squeeze into the semi-finals.
“It was a game that we know we were on top, but the result is what counts,” said Vilda. “[Sunday] will be a tactical match and it’s a final that we’re going to fight with everything.”
Royalty in attendance
The final, which is a 75,784 sell-out, kicks-off at 8pm local time in Australia, 10pm NZT.
La Roja will be cheered on in Sydney by royalty, with Spain’s Queen Letizia attending the final.
Football Association President Prince William has wished the England women’s national team good luck and said he is “sorry” for not attending the game in person in a video message.
Football fan zones in London have already sold out in anticipation of the Lionesses’ match.
If England do win, the government has said there are “no plans” for an extra bank holiday.
* This story was first published by the BBC with additional reporting by RNZ.
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