Saturday, February 24, 2024

Full Time: The World Cup final is here

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While I’d rather focus on the players, this final feels like a tale of two coaches. I’m Emily Olsen here with Meg Linehan and Steph Yang — welcome to Full Time!

The World Cup Final Is Here

Did you see the game last night?

This is a simple enough question that I’ve heard throughout Sydney as we march to the final. On the street, in parks and coffee shops and at the bar. This country caught the Matildas’ bug, as seen by the 9 out of 10 households who watched the broadcast of the host nation’s quarterfinal.

Even after Australia fell 2-0 to Sweden in the third-place game, fans were talking about their beloved Tillies. It wasn’t long ago that low attendance forced a friendly against Brazil behind closed doors. The Matildas have been knocking on the door for a long time, and the whole of Australia has finally listened.

Now, on to the final.


Spain vs. England

Here we are. The final two teams playing for glory in the 2023 edition of the World Cup: Spain and England. Someone will lift a trophy, etching their names in the history of this sport — and it will be a first for whoever does.

Facing adversity on and off the field

Spain is still playing in the shadows of “Las 15,” the 15 players that sent a letter almost a year ago to the Spanish Federation, refusing to play until the conditions created in part by coach Jorge Vilda improved. The team has been asked throughout the tournament about the ongoing tension, which players have largely avoided directly answering.

Yesterday, a journalist asked how the team is working so well together with the underlying tension of a “modern version of Spanish anarchism,” as the journalist described the situation. Vilda responded, “Next question.”

Meanwhile, England entered this tournament without captain Leah WilliamsonBeth Mead and Fran Kirby — all key components to the team’s European Championship last year. During this World Cup, Keira Walsh missed some of the group stage after an injury against Denmark. Despite initial concerns, she returned to the lineup for the knockouts. And just as Lauren James was fully stepping into her role as the team’s most crucial player, she received a red card and a two-game suspension for unnecessarily stepping on Nigerian forward Michelle Alozie’s back. James missed the quarterfinal and semifinal, but her team found a way against Colombia and Australia. She’ll be available for selection for the final.

It hasn’t been a smooth ride. Though coach Sarina Wiegman’s side hasn’t lost this tournament, they’ve had close calls against Nigeria, Colombia and even in their opening game against Haiti. Spain, meanwhile, was taken apart by Japan 4-0 in the final game of the group stage but hasn’t stumbled since.


What are people saying?

The Athletic has had a host of expert guest writers this tournament including Sam MewisPaul MullinVicente del Bosque and Vivianne Miedena. The latter two spoke about Spain and England respectively. I can only share so much perspective, but these current and former players and coach really get to the heart of what’s happening.

The last time Spain won a World Cup was 2010 on the men’s side. Del Bosque was at the helm.

They are a good team. I think this Spain side has a similarity with our experience in 2010 in that they have grown stronger throughout the tournament. I’ve always talked about the senior women’s national team being a step below the big powers, but now I think we’ve taken a step forward and we can compete with anyone.

We shouldn’t make too many comparisons with 2010. I’m embarrassed to even talk about it. But I think that like back then, everyone is watching back home.

Vivianne Miedema missed this tournament due to an ACL injury, but she’s been watching. What the Dutch forward has seen is her former coach, one that has led her to European and World Cup finals, guiding England through ups and downs.

England was lucky to see off Haiti. After that game, Sarina realized she had to change the system.

I’ve actually never really seen her do that at all — not that drastically. That shows you that she is also still developing, becoming a better coach than she used to be. That drive is a special thing for a manager to have after you’ve already won it all… almost.

(With the Netherlands,) the biggest thing for a group is to have a coach that tells you that you are good enough to win the whole thing. Continuously, she made sure we did believe in ourselves. She created a safety bubble for us and took away anything outside our camp that put us under pressure.


Steph’s Set Piece: The feeling of the final

What is the vibe going into the final of the 2023 Women’s World Cup? At least from an American perspective, there seems to be a feeling of, “Can neither team win?”

England eliminated some tournament darlings, Nigeria and Australia among them. They are also coming off the back of the Euros. If you’re already not inclined to be an England fan that sticks in your craw a little bit.

As for Spain, there’s obviously so much going on there behind the scenes – things that Vilda refused to talk about in the press conference the day before the game, but which are out there nevertheless. The players deserve a better coach. He is part of an overall problem as described by the players who protested, three of whom have returned to this roster.

There is also a sense that whether Spain wins or loses, the Spanish Federation has already handed a lot of credit to Vilda, whether or not he deserves it.

The two finalists share in their contentious feelings toward their federations, with England previously pushing to receive bonuses from the FA.

So while there are reasons to resent that they got this far, there are also reasons to want to see both teams succeed and be able to leverage that.

Winning does give you bigger leverage against your federation — see the USWNT’s win in 2019 amid calls for equal pay. It shouldn’t have to be that way. What they’re protesting is that they don’t have the support they need to win, so ultimately, one team will win against the odds.

As a true neutral going into this, I’m just hoping for a really exciting game of soccer. I think between these two teams and the way they’ve played, there’s a good chance that we will get that. And really, that’s all you can ask for at the end of a World Cup.


Fun Time World Cup Trivia

If you don’t want the answer to yesterday’s question, stop scrolling now….

England’s coach Sarina Wiegman was recruited by Anson Dorrance to the University of North Carolina. Without previous knowledge of the college she agreed to join the Tar Heels’ historic program in 1989, playing just one season. Her teammates included Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly.

Today’s question…

Who won the first Women’s World Cup and what was the final score?


Full-Time First Looks

FIFA Chief Women’s Football Officer Sarai Bareman guaranteed that World Cup players would receive the bonus payments promised to them by FIFA.

Carli Lloyd spoke at the second annual FIFA Women’s Football Convention on Saturday, where she continued to express her feelings about the USWNT and their confidence levels. She added that she, “didn’t think this team was fit.

Speaking of the USWNT, what went wrong for the team? What should come next? Kim McCauley takes a look at coach Vlatko Andonovski’s short tenure.

The Athletic’s Sarah Shephard: The FIFA president’s comments before the World Cup final stank — and the FA’s chief executive’s were not much better.

England defender Jess Carter isn’t one to chase the limelight. It took a prod from her sister for the Chelsea defender to appear in Vogue magazine earlier this year. Casual.

(Photo: Getty Images)

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