An Impressive World Cup to Remember
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Just weeks ago, the Australia and New Zealand Women’s World Cup marked its name in the history books. With many upsets, unexpected outcomes, and new records, this year’s World Cup was one to remember.
Entering the tournament, the U.S., Spain, Germany, Brazil, and England constituted the conventional favorites. However, once the tournament started, upsets were ubiquitous. This intense drama began in the group stages, as Australia was swiftly dealt with by the Nigerian side. The co-hosts, who had been expected to dominate their group, succumbed to a second-half Nigerian siege and were routed 3-1. Though the Australians kept most of the possession, Nigeria’s rapid counter-attacks broke through the tough defense.
Across the other group stages, battles for knockout spots grew intense. Germany and Colombia went head to head for the first-place finish. Germany was the favorite to win this match, but Colombia pulled off a last-minute winner in the 97th minute to send them to the top of the group. Meanwhile, the U.S. shockingly drew with Portugal 0-0, while Netherlands thrashed Vietnam 7-0––causing the U.S. to leave Group E as the runner-ups, set to face the European giant: Sweden. In Group F, Brazil was eliminated in a 0-0 draw with Jamaica. This wasn’t the only group with an “underdog” team advancing to the knockouts—South Africa and Morocco advanced from Group G and H, respectively, while strong teams like Italy, Argentina, and Germany all exited the competition.
Round of 16
During the first day of the knockouts, all of the outcomes were expected as the “stronger” teams beat the “weaker” teams. The following day, however, saw the tournament reach new heights of entertainment. Despite the dominant attacking play of the Americans, they were unable to get past the Swedish goalkeeper, Zećira Mušović, who made a stunning 11 saves. Both teams went into penalties, and after a miss by the U.S. when the score was 4-4, it was up to the Swedes to end the game. Surprisingly, the U.S. goalkeeper, Alyssa Naeher saved the initial shot, but the ball spun and edged a centimeter into the goal, making Sweden the victor of this 120-minute match. With the four-peat winners out of the tournament, it was now up for grabs for the remaining teams. To start, it was the first time in Women’s World Cup history that the U.S. didn’t make the podium. With four World Cup titles in the history of eight World Cups, the lowest position they had finished was third place in 1995, 2003, and 2007. However, with their loss to Sweden in the Round of 16, the U.S. underperformed, mainly due to faults in the team’s coach, Vlatko Andonovski. The main blame was his choice in choosing the starting lineup and certain questionable substitutions. Throughout the group stages, it was evident that he didn’t make substitutions. With many talents like youngsters Alyssa Thompson and Trinity Rodman, the lack of substitutions could be the blame for the U.S. finishing second in the group stages and eventually facing Sweden in the Round of 16.
Another potential winner, England, went on to play Nigeria, one of the dark horses of this tournament. Despite the speculation that England would easily take the victory, Nigeria fought back fiercely. Then, in the 87th minute, English midfielder Lauren James received a red card for stepping on a Nigerian player while she was down. Playing with 10 players, England took Nigeria all the way to penalties. With composure, the English took the victory, scoring four penalties and only letting in two. In spite of the fight Nigeria put up, England advanced to the quarterfinals.
The final eight was characterized by far less certainty entering each game, especially with the way the tournament had gone thus far. This was the case for the Japan vs. Sweden game, as both teams were very strong teams. But as the game progressed, Sweden took more shots and took control of the game with their physicality. In the end, Sweden took the win with a score of 2-1 and advanced to the semis.
Another very entertaining game came from Australia vs. France, as the score was 0-0 at the end of the 120th minute. After the first six kickers all scored, it was the seventh kicker’s turn. Unexpectedly, the French youngster, Vicki Bècho, hit the post, sending Australia through.
Three days after England emerged victorious against Colombia with a 2-1 quarterfinals win, the semifinals commenced with a European-giant showdown: Spain vs. Sweden. Throughout the match, there were no goals until the 81st minute, when Spanish teenager Salma Celeste Paralluelo Ayingono scored the opener. As a substitute off the bench, this 19-year-old youngster pounced on the second ball in the box and finished it cleanly. However, the game wasn’t over just yet, because Swedish player Rebecka Blomqvist scored the equalizer seven minutes later, in the 88th minute. With the game level, it was thought that it would go into extra time. This changed when Spanish left-back Olga Carmona scored a beauty from outside the box, following a corner kick. With an absolute thriller of a game, Spain, for the first time in its history, would advance to the World Cup finals.
It was finally the day, the day when a team would be going home with the glory of the World Cup. It was time for the World Cup final. On the morning of Sunday, August 20, 2023, the World Cup final commenced with Spain going against England, two teams who have never won the tournament. From the start, Spain dominated with their attacking play. Then, in the 29th minute, Carmona again produced a miracle. After a great overlapping play, the Spanish left-back finished calmly into the bottom corner in the back of the English net. As the game progressed, England tried to create chances, with attackers whipping crosses in and shots being taken relentlessly, but the Spanish wall was too great. After an intense battle, the game ended with a 1-0 victory for Spain.
Despite the huge accomplishment that Spain has just made, there is recent controversy regarding the Spanish Football Federation. During the medal ceremony, federation president Luis Rubiales was seen openly kissing Spanish player Jenni Hermoso. This shocked many as Hermoso later said, “I felt vulnerable and a victim of an impulse-driven, sexist, out of place act without any consent on my part.” Following this shocking news, the 23 World Cup champions and 58 others have signed a letter refusing to play for the national team if the current leaders continue. Unfortunately, these controversial acts mitigate the hard work the Spanish team took to achieve this accomplishment, since it places the public’s attention on the controversy rather than the victory of the Spanish team.
Despite the recent controversy, the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup set many new records. To start off, it was the first time in Women’s World Cup history that the U.S. didn’t make the podium. With four World Cup titles in the history of eight World Cups, the lowest position they had finished was third place in 1995, 2003, and 2007. However, with their loss to Sweden in the Round of 16, the U.S. clearly underperformed––but, positively, the global growth of women’s soccer is simultaneously evident. For example, three African teams advanced to the knockout stages, the most in history, while more than half the teams in the quarter-finals were European. This increasing awareness of women’s soccer is also evident through the number of fans who attended the matches. There was an average of 30,911 fans per match, breaking the previous record of 26,000 per match at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada. Also, there was a record high of 1.9 million fans tuned in for the final of the tournament, surpassing the previous record of 1.35 million fans in the 2015 Women’s World Cup. With many records broken and with the increasing awareness of women’s soccer, the future is bright for women’s soccer as it continues to grow both in popularity and expertise.