Spain defeat England in final of record-breaking Women’s World Cup

SYDNEY  - Spain defeated England 1-0 in the Women’s World Cup final on Sunday, capping off a tournament that has broken attendance and TV records and raised hopes of a surge in interest for the women’s game. 

Co-hosted by Australia and New Zea­land, the ninth edition of the global showpiece event was the first to be held in the southern hemisphere. While local interest ebbed when Australia exited in the semi-finals, just shy of two million fans will have passed through the gates in nine host cities after Sunday’s final crowd of 75,784 is added to the tally. 

An Olga Carmona goal was the dif­ference between the two sides in a pulsating game that saw Spain create the majority of the clear-cut chances. “We suffered, it was a difficult match (but) we always thought we were go­ing to make it,” Carmona, who was also named player of the match, told Span­ish state broadcaster TVE. 

La Roja were rocked by a locker room dispute between the squad and coach Jorge Vilda and the Spanish football fed­eration, with some of their best players absent from the tournament as a result. But despite a shock 4-0 loss to Japan in the group stage, the team has shone throughout the tournament with their brand of attractive, attacking football. “I can’t imagine how much excitement there will be in Spain,” Vilda told TVE. “We are going to celebrate here and we don’t know when it will end.” 

Thousands of fans milled around Stadium Australia in Sydney hours be­fore kick-off on Sunday, with troupes of drummers and stilt walkers creating a festival atmosphere. England and Spain were both making their first appearance at a Women’s World Cup final, while England’s wait for a first trophy since the men’s tournament in 1966 goes on. 

Women were banned from official facilities in England, the home of the game, until 1970 and have long lagged the men’s team in interest and funding, although that began to change after the Lionesses won the European Champi­onship last year. England captain Mil­lie Bright told reporters after the final whistle she was proud of the progress the women’s game had made. 

“Credit to the tournament, it’s been phenomenal, the crowds that we’ve generated and the support that all teams have and it’s been surreal, it’s been so visible,” she said. “In terms of the women’s game ... I definitely think we’re at our peak.” 

Australia’s semi-final loss to England on Wednesday drew an average of 7.13 million viewers on the channels of local broadcaster Seven Network, the highest viewership ever recorded by research firm OzTAM, which launched in 2001. Matildas matches sold out months in advance, and organisers expect the av­erage attendance to exceed 30,000. 

The last Women’s World Cup in France four years ago attracted more than 1.1 million fans to 52 matches with an average crowd of 21,756. De­mand was weaker in New Zealand, whose team went out in the group stages. FIFA gave away thousands of tickets and some games attracted as few as 7,000 fans, although Football Ferns matches broke records for a soccer crowd in the country. 

Australia’s players, who lost 2-0 in a third-place playoff match to Sweden on Saturday, will earn $165,000 each in prize money for this tournament, more than 300 times the A$750 ($480) they received for a quarter-final appearance in 2015. But at the grassroots level, the sport needs more resources, Matildas striker Sam Kerr said after the loss to England on Wednesday. 

The Matildas’ World Cup campaign has led to calls for more support to women’s soccer in Australia, where it lags more popular football codes like rugby league and Australian rules. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese responded on Saturday by promising A$200 mil­lion for women’s sport in the wake of the Matildas’ run to the semi-finals. 

Albanese said the money would be used to improve sports facilities for women and girls, with soccer tipped to receive “significant resourcing”. The government also wants to ensure wom­en’s sporting events are available on free-to-air television, after criticism that most World Cup games not involving Australia were behind a paywall.

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