The Women’s World Cup came agonisingly close to a magical two million attendees as the tournament wrapped up with Spain pushing past their inner turmoil to beat England 1-0 and claim their first crown.
All expectations of the tournament’s reach and impact have been surpassed after a dazzling month of football across Australia and New Zealand.
Another full house for the Spain-England final at Stadium Australia topped it off, bringing the end tally to 1,978,274.
From early in the evening, it was clear this would be closer to Wembley than the Santiago Bernabeu, with thousands of flag-clad England fans giving the Lionesses a firm advantage from the stands.
Those supporters also had a villain in their sights: booing Jorge Vilda whenever the Spain coach appeared on the big screen.
Their brightest moment came in the second half, when Mary Earps’ stunning penalty save from Jenni Hermoso gave the English a rallying point.
Despite the sell-out, at least one member of the 75,784 crowd didn’t reach the half-hour mark: an anti-Putin protester who invaded the pitch and was eventually removed.
The man evaded security and ran onto the field, coming within metres of Lauren Hemp as she stood over a free kick, only to trip over his own feet and allow the chasing pack of security officers to haul him off.
The lapse didn’t detract from the occasion, and fittingly, the contest was the centrepiece on Sunday night, with only a modest closing ceremony prior to kick-off.
Australian singer Tones and I and a backing crew of dancers were the sole performers in a 10-minute show that preceded the all-Euro affair.
In contrast to the opening ceremony at Auckland’s Eden Park a month earlier, this was not a trans-Tasman celebration.
New Zealand and Maori culture were noticeably absent from proceedings despite shared hosting duties.
Another absentee made headlines for the wrong reasons: Prince William, who opted not to attend the final, drawing allegations of sexism from English fans, who suggested it would be unthinkable for him to miss a men’s World Cup final should England qualify.
Prince William is the president of England’s Football Association, and sent a video to the team prior to the final apologising for his non-attendance.
From also-rans to world champions
Spain’s rise as a women’s football powerhouse has been steep and swift.
La Roja hadn’t qualified for the Women’s World Cup until 2015, when they didn’t win a match and went home bottom of their group on their debut appearance.
Spain was stuck outside the world’s top 10 until 2021, and before this month, they hadn’t won a knockout match at a major tournament.
But after disposing of England 1-0 in a fully merited World Cup final win on Sunday, it is clear that Spain are the world’s best.
Their triumph also raises a question that will terrify the chasing pack, including the Matildas.
Just how good could Spain be if they weren’t at war?
Spain’s win at the Australia-New Zealand tournament comes after months of infighting sparked by under-investment and an alleged “authoritarian” style from coach Jorge Vilda.
A dozen of Spain’s best players – including a clutch of two-time Champions League winners from Barcelona – were missing from the World Cup, choosing to walk away from the national team as long as Vilda remained in charge.
Both Vilda and his squad have closed ranks on the matter all month, and it is suspected the uneasy truce will break after their groundbreaking win.
On Sunday night, the focus remained on football, and La Roja got to work in Sydney in their first match on Australian soil.
The 75,784 in attendance saw what Kiwi crowds have been witnessing over the past month: superb passing and movement, and relentless possession that grinds down opponents.
Spain were the tournament’s top scorers, with 18, and had more shots (157), and attempts on target (56) than any other sides at the World Cup.
They have also shown their incredible depth this tournament – beyond the striking dozen players and well into their squad. All but one player has had playing time at the World Cup: third-choice goalkeeper Enith Salon.
Take teenage prodigy Salma Paralluelo.
Just a part-time footballer as recently as 18 months ago, committing to football after a promising sprinting career, Paralluelo didn’t look out of place as a starting striker in a World Cup final, leading the line.
Goalkeeper Cata Coll isn’t first choice at her club, behind the boycotting Sandra Panos at Barcelona, and hadn’t played for her country until this tournament.
After she impressed in training, Vilda put Cato into goal for the round of 16 win over Switzerland and kept faith with the 22-year-old through to Sunday.
Spain have also triumphed despite a bit-part role from their brightest star – Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas – who has started just one match on the comeback from injury.
If all that doesn’t concern the rest of the footballing world, consider also that Spain are the current world champions at under-20 and under-17 level – the first to unite all three trophies.
The win means Spain is just the second country to have won both the senior women’s and men’s World Cups, joining Germany.
Sunday night’s win came with the same 1-0 scoreline as the fabled men’s team’s 2010 victory over the Netherlands in South Africa.
They are the second team to win the trophy without topping their group, following Japan – who beat them 4-0 in Wellington this month – in 2011.
https://thenewdaily.com.au/sport/football/2023/08/21/womens-world-cup-attendance/ Final Sydney sell-out caps best-ever Women’s World Cup