When the referee blew for full-time at the end of Sunday’s Women’s World Cup final, the scenes were predictable but heart-wrenching and heart-warming all the same. You’ve seen it before - while one team drops to their knees and considers what could have been, the other celebrates wildly at having achieved a lifelong dream. On this occasion, the former was England and the latter was Spain, two teams that, in truth, not many would have foreseen going all the way to the end in this tournament.
Spain’s off-pitch chaos is well-known by now. After last year’s defeat in the quarter-finals of the European Championship, the players called for change, and when they didn’t get it in a satisfactory fashion, 15 of them withdrew from selection. While a small handful returned for this World Cup, 11 stuck by their decision and, sadly, that sacrifice meant they were not part of Sunday’s historic triumph. That La Roja still became champions of the world is a nod to just how much depth is in their player pool.
England also came into this tournament missing several top-quality footballers, albeit in very different circumstances. Beth Mead, Leah Williamson and Fran Kirby were all ruled out of the World Cup through injury, three key pieces of Sarina Wiegman’s success as head coach of the Lionesses. With starting No.9 Ellen White retiring after last year’s Euros win and Jill Scott, one of the most valuable characters in the group, also choosing to hang up her boots, Wiegman had a fair bit of change to deal with in the year between the two tournaments.
In the same half of the draw as two-time champions Germany, a rejuvenated France, co-hosts Australia and Olympic champions Canada, there weren’t many who had them going beyond the last eight, really.
So while Sunday’s defeat will have hurt a whole lot, and they were so close to the ultimate glory, when the dust settles, England should be proud of their journey to a first ever Women’s World Cup final. After all, it’s more than most anticipated this team achieving.