Spain’s World Cup victory is a triumph for women’s sports

Spain 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup

It was the only goal Spain would make for the entire 105 minutes of the final match against England on Sunday night, Aug. 20, in Sydney, Australia. Yet it was the only point that La Roja—the Red One—would need to lift their first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup trophy.

The goal came early: Just 29 minutes into the game, Spanish captain and forward Olga Carmona exploited an opening in the left side of the English penalty box, received a quick pass from forward Mariona Caldentey, and then executed a low cross shot that went past a diving Mary Earps, the English goalkeeper. Carmona was eventually declared best player of the match.

Despite the 1-0 score, English fans remained hopeful considering that in the semifinals of the UEFA Women’s Euro held on July 20, 2022, the Lionesses came from behind to win, 2-1, against the same Spanish team.

This time, however, Spain remained steadfast, maintaining possession of the ball 57% of the time while making 13 shots (five on goal), compared to England’s eight shots (three on goal). Relentless in their attacks, La Roja would have made more goals had Earps failed to execute crucial saves from shots coming from Ona Batlle, Caldentey, and Alba Redondo.

Earps, who received the Golden Glove award for her exceptional performance during this edition of the Women’s World Cup, executed her best save in the 69th minute of the match, when she caught the penalty kick of Spanish forward Jennifer Hermoso and prevented Spain from pulling off a 2-0 lead.

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Ongoing feud

Spain, which became only the second country (after Germany) to win both the men’s and women’s World Cups, triumphed against a heavily-favored English team, the reigning European champion (Women’s EURO 2022) and holder of bronze medals from the last two Women’s World Cups in 2015 and 2019.

Spain’s victory was additionally remarkable given that some of its top players were not on the present roster due to an ongoing feud with head coach Jorge Vilda, his coaching staff and the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).

Last September, 15 Spanish players e-mailed the federation to say that they did not want to be considered for selection; they cited their “emotional state.” But the exact nature of their complaints was never officially made public although Spanish media had previously reported that they wanted Vilda sacked for being “dictatorial” and did not approve of his training methods or tactics.

The RFEF backed Vilda, however, and the coach brought only three of the complainants back into the squad–midfielder Aitana Bonmati (who won the Golden Ball for best player at this year’s Women’s World Cup), Caldentey and Batlle.

Close to 2 million fans

With 75,784 fans watching the final game live at Stadium Australia in Sydney, 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup co-hosts Australia and New Zealand announced that close to 2 million fans had passed through the gates of the nine host cities since the matches started on July 20.

Indeed, the 2023 edition of the quadrennial game broke many records. The Aug. 16 semifinal match—in which England defeated Australia, 3-1—drew an audience of 11.15 million at its peak. Host broadcaster Channel Seven of Australia said an average audience of 7.13 million tuned in.

The numbers marked the highest viewership ever recorded since the current rating system was established in 2001.

In the United States, broadcaster Fox set a record for the group stage of a Women’s World Cup. Two of the four US women’s national team matches during the tournament began overnight or in the early morning hours but averaged 3.80 million viewers on Fox, up 2% from the United States’ first four matches in the 2019 edition of the tournament.

‘FIFA was right’

At the Women’s Football Convention on Aug. 18, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said expanding the Women’s World Cup had turned out to be a success, and that “FIFA was right” to do so.

“From the 134 countries that entered the qualification for the 2015 Women’s World Cup before I became FIFA president, we have now 188 countries in the FIFA ranking because everyone believes now that there is a chance to shine on the global stage,” he said.

Infantino recalled that when FIFA decided to open its doors to more teams, critics were quick to say that the plan would not work: “The level is too different. You will have 15-0 scores. It will be bad for women’s football. It will be bad for the image of women’s football. I’m sorry, but FIFA was right. As it happens, quite often in the last years FIFA was right once more.”

There were only 24 teams in the 2019 edition of the Women’s World Cup held in France. But FIFA decided to accept more teams—eight more slots—and paved the way for first-timers to prove their worth on the biggest stage of football. 

This edition’s debutants included the Philippines and Vietnam from the Asian Football Confederation; Morocco and Zambia from the Confederation of African Football; Haiti and Panama from the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football; and Portugal and the Republic of Ireland from the Union of European Football Associations.

Morocco even reached the Round of 16, and the Philippines, Zambia and Portugal, despite not advancing to the knockout stage, displayed potential for winning a game against higher ranked and more experienced teams in their bracket.

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