Here is my World Cup Recap by the numbers:
- Days: 32
- Matches (in person): 16
- Unique Cities visited: 5
- Total km (excluding round trip to/from Vancouver): 21,377 (13283 miles)
- Legs between Australia and New Zealand: 7
- Domestic Australia flights: 5
- Domestic New Zealand flights: 1
- Number of different people with whom I attended games: 11
- Number of soccer jerseys purchased: 3
But, it all ends in the final! Sydney, August 20, 2023. You might think that with the home team eliminated and all those US fans without a dog in this fight, there might be diminished excitement around the final. But fortunately, you would be wrong. Everyone turned out: thousands upon thousands of yellow-jersey-wearing Mathilda's fans, thousands of English, fewer Spaniards, and lots of Americans who expected to be watching the US when they bought tickets so many months ago, but instead were cheering on a team who would earn its first ever world cup star.
I started gathering my Women's World Cup Final crew at the stadium around 4:00, so we could enjoy the gala atmosphere, grab food at one of the zillions of booths, and basically hang out for a bit. We had a subset of the Olsen crew that we had in Lyon four years ago: Mike, Teresa, Jennie, and Benji, my former student Vaastav (currently at MPI-SWS) and his friend Mila (currently at University of Zurich). I was sad to be missing former final attendees Becks Ruck, Nancy Geimer, Chris Vance, and Beth Martens. Next time!
We all parted ways to head for different parts of the stadium. We had outstanding seats. Once again, we were way high up (on level 6), but we were at the 25 yard line of one of the goals (England's for the first half), and we were in two seats that had no seats in front of us and no one behind us. It was great! (Notice Maddie and I both decked out in Spain away jerseys.)
I don't recall there being fancy pre-game shows in 2015 and 2019, but I could just be forgetting -- there certainly was a big pre-game show this time! We opened with the traditional welcome to country, although perhaps it was not so traditional; it was the first game I'd seen in Australia where the welcome came from a woman of one of the aboriginal groups of Australia.
This was followed by Tones and I singing several songs accompanied by a light show as well as dancers and most entertainingly a ring of soccer-playing women showing off their ball handling skills!
And then, the opening we've become used to with a new banner and a bit more fanfare!
And then the game began. First possession went to England and they looked threatening; a few minutes later Spain made their own foray into the final third, but neither team was truly in control of the match yet. However, about ten minutes into the game, we saw Spain do what Spain does best, whip the ball all over the field at high velosity, through the midfield, and into the attacking third. It appeared that England couldn't quite figure out how to counter it. They looked smooth and dangerous when in posession, but that fancy Spanish footwork seemed to push the game the way of Spain. Young Spanish superstar, Paralluelo (who came off the bench and scored in two of the previous knockout stage matches) started and was a pesky presence in the final third.
About 25 minutes in, we were entertained by a runner on the field. The security folks did what they were supposed to do and (thanks to his slipping about 25 yards onto the field) four of them jumped on him and escorted him out. So exciting.
Just like the semi-final, it became a game of possession (Spain) and counterattack (England). Both sides looked dangerous in the final third, but it's difficult to score if you don't have the ball, and Spain controlled the ball. In general, losing the ball is bad, but about 30 minutes into the match, it was devastating for England. Spain stripped the ball from England around midfield, and Abelleira sent a pass across the field to Caldentey who found Carmona outside the box. Carmona sent a perfectly placed bullet past the outstretched arms of Mary Earps; Spain 1-0!
England steps it up a notch, but Spain presses hard. Just before the half, Paralluelo gets a pass just outside the goal area and sends a shot in, but that pesky player 12 -- the post -- denies the goal! It's halftime with Spain up 1-0.
At the beginning of the half, England makes two subs, one of which brings in Lauren James, who had sat out a two game suspension for (literally) walking on a Nigerian player's back. I was curious what the reaction would be -- the crowd was conflicted. Some were thrilled to see new, young blood on the attack, but others were not happy with her past behavior. There were most definitely boos when her name was announced as the substitute and they were repeated pretty much every time she touched the ball.
Play continued much as before, until about 10 minutes into the half, when England starts to take control, dominating possession. Spain counters by subbing in a new defender -- nothing like some fresh legs to keep those attacking forwards under control. And, just a few minutes later, it seems like it could be all over. A VAR review shows a handball in the England box area. But alas, rather than all but sealing the game, Mary Earps saves the day and stops the shot! England has found a new life, and the stadium is tense!
The final 20 minutes are brutal. Both sides are fighting: Spain for the win; England to stay alive. Players are getting knocked about and both teams end up with players down for serious assessment. Between those injuries and the VAR review, as the clock strikes 90, the ref gives a whopping THIRTEEN minutes of extra time! Anything can happen in thirteen minutes.
But alas, it doesn't happen and 13 minutes later finds us right where we were in minute 30: Spain 1, England 0. We have a new world champion!