Two of the world’s best teams in recent years, England and Spain, will today in Sydney battle for the title of the globe’s best football team.
None of the teams have ever won the World Cup, but they have shown in recent times that they rank among the best ever sides to grace the game.
The two European heavyweights will bring the tournament to a close in what promises to be a close, high-quality final.
It marks the end of a remarkable tournament that’s encapsulated all the beautiful game has to offer; from the group stages that oscillated between high-scoring mismatches and tight, cautious defensive displays to the high-quality knockout stages peppered with upsets, penalty drama, and the displays of joy and heartache that accompany such high-pressure stakes.
After a dominant first two matches and already qualified for the knockout stages, they even afforded themselves a drop in focus and were beaten 4-0 by Japan.
In the knockout stages, they had a more difficult time, scraping past the Netherlands 2-1 in the quarterfinals with a 111th-minute winner. In the semifinal, Sweden and Spain served up a thriller, with Olga Carmona scoring the winner in the 89th minute with a delightful long-range shot that bounced off the crossbar and over the line.
The Lionesses have not lost a game in the tournament and notched up some impressive results, not least their 3-1 win over co-hosts Australia in the semifinal.
However, they have sometimes shown some vulnerability, particularly against Nigeria, who could have beaten England in the quarterfinal had it not been for some wayward finishing.
If the last time the two met is anything to go by, then we are in for a treat. In last year’s European Championships quarterfinals, England came from behind to win after Esther Gonzalez’s first-half strike had given Spain the lead.
Georgia Stanway’s long-range strike in the final minutes to win it for the eventual champions will no doubt be replayed plenty of times in the England dressing room ahead of Sunday’s final.
Full-back Olga Carmona is expected to retain a place in the starting XI, having impressed in the absence of Oihane Hernandez, who is available for the final after serving a suspension.
England’s coach Wiegman will have to decide whether to start Ella Toone, who scored in the semifinal or breakout star Lauren James, who is available again after a two-match suspension.
Aitana Bonmati, Barcelona’s versatile midfielder, has emerged as Spain’s chief playmaker, scoring three goals in the tournament.
To put her performances into perspective, Pep Guardiola, the manager of the men’s Manchester City, said:
“I would say she [Bonmati] is like the women’s [Andrés] Iniesta playing for Barcelona”. High praise indeed from one of football’s most successful managers.
Keira Walsh, another Barcelona midfielder, has blessed her national team with grace, composure and intelligence, and has been a vital cog in Wiegman’s machine.
She may not have made it onto the scoresheet so far, but she is England’s unsung hero, having dictated play in midfield for the Lionesses.
The two teams have played 11 times, with England notching up six wins, Spain two and three draws.