London, United Kingdom – The 2023 Women’s World Cup concludes when England take on Spain in the final in Sydney on Sunday, with the Lionesses desperate to win their country their first World Cup since 1966.
Support for the Lionesses has grown steadily since last year’s European Championship, where they beat Germany in the final to lift their first major honor in front of a sold-out Wembley, and ahead of the World Cup final, England are already excited also united behind the lions.
“[The World Cup] is the biggest prize not only in world football, but in world sport,” said Sky Sports reporter Fadumo Olow.
England’s 3-1 win over Australia in the semifinal saw a record 7.3 million viewers on the BBC, the UK’s biggest audience at the Women’s World Cup so far despite the game taking place early on Wednesday in the morning. The numbers are expected to be even higher for the final.
“The time difference made it difficult, of course, but in a way, it was very memorable. I will never forget the summer of 2023,” said Jim Johnson, a local in the Wembley area, who saw the celebrations. of last year’s Euro victory from his balcony.
“I woke up at 3 in the morning to watch a football game, and went to work while buzzing. Both from the joy of winning, and the one drink I allowed myself. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Olow said this World Cup will never generate the same level of engagement as last year’s home tournament Euros that made the Lionesses household names.
“But I think that as England progressed in the tournament, and the timings got better, it became easier to get behind the team,” he said. “And from looking at the parties I’ve seen, I’m not going to lie, I’ve seen people here at 8 o’clock on a Wednesday morning, in their England shirts, with their coffee, excited to watch- well football.”
Screenings were arranged across the country, with local pubs packed with fans watching the matches. Tickets for the events screening the knockouts sold out in minutes, and record numbers are expected to show up at London’s Victoria Park for the final.
In London, screens for Sunday’s game will also be set up in Canary Wharf, London Bridge, Hackney, Peckham, and Shepherd’s Bush.
“The time difference may have stopped people from watching the whole games, but I don’t think it stopped the interest,” said Kashvi Khan, a manager of a local community center in Brentford. which places watch-alongs in every knockout match of the tournament.
“I think people who are not able to participate in the games that start early in the morning will be able to watch the highlights, and read the conversations online. Women’s football is still not very accessible.
England’s route to the final
After England’s win over co-hosts Australia, manager Sarina Wiegman called the run a “fairytale”.
Should the Lionesses secure victory on Sunday, it would be easy in retrospect to see their journey to lift the trophy almost inevitable. As the reigning European champions, they boast some of the best players in the world, a deep squad, and the experience of having already won a major tournament.
But the Lionesses face big challenges, with Wiegman showing the tactical flexibility to get his team this far.
During the Euros his starting XI did not change once. But England’s World Cup preparations have been marred by a series of injuries to key figures such as captain Leah Williamson and star goal-scoring forward Beth Mead – both out with ACL injuries – and Fran Kirby, the driving force behind the Lionesses’ creativity from midfield, who needed surgery for a knee issue.
Coupled with the retirement of important people in the dressing room like Ellen White and Jill Scott, suddenly the Lionesses lost experience in key positions and their balance was disrupted.
England have registered poor results before the tournament, suffering a 2-0 loss to Australia and being held to a goalless draw against Portugal in their warm-up games, raising concerns about potential fatigue after a tough year.
Then, during the World Cup, England struggled to beat Haiti and Denmark in their first two games and key defensive midfielder Keira Walsh missed the game after picking up a knee injury against the Danes. England cruised to a 6-1 win over China to top the group, but were lucky to beat Nigeria in the last 16 and breakout star Lauren James received a two-match suspension after receiving a red card in that match. .
However, England have navigated these challenges with a combination of depth and experience. Their performance in the penalty shootout against Nigeria showed their quiet confidence, despite losing the 120 minute game.
Interim captain Millie Bright who has returned from injury has further strengthened the defense after Williamson. The team’s extensive attacking depth allowed players like Ella Toone and Alessia Russo, who were only used as super subs during the Euros, to get more minutes and goals. James also provided a boost before his suspension and is likely to return for the final, either as a starter or off the bench.
The Lionesses occasionally showed weakness on the flanks, but Lucy Bronze and Rachel Daly did enough to keep their opponents at bay while the re-introduction of Walsh in midfield helped the side maintain possession and control. matches.
However, individual brilliance and a focused mentality can only go so far without tactical changes. After a lackluster showing in the tournament opener against Haiti, the team switched to a 3-4-3, allowing Bronze and Daly more freedom to move forward. It also suits the centre-backs, with Bright, Alex Greenwood, and Jess Carter providing stability, with the latter two being England’s most consistent performers.
The back three also allowed the Lionesses to move quickly from every third of the pitch, which the team struggled with before the tournament, allowing them to exploit space against teams that used a high press. While this doesn’t always result in goals in close matches, such as the match against Nigeria, this approach was clearly evident in the semifinal against Australia, a 3-1 victory that took them to their first Women’s World Cup final .
Bronze himself told the media that Wiegman “showed a different side of him … For a few rounds now, he has to roll up his sleeves a little bit, adjust the team. Before, people were like, ‘He keeps the same group and he doesn’t change.’ He worked a lot in this tournament to get us into the final, and his experience really shows”.
‘It doesn’t matter if it’s a boy or a girl’
The Lionesses naturally drew comparisons with the England men’s team that won the 1966 World Cup. Many fans today won’t even be alive to see Bobby Moore lift the trophy, but those who do, view a potential Lioness win on Sunday as just as seismic.
“A World Cup victory is a World Cup victory. It doesn’t matter if it’s boys or girls. I cried my eyes out as a 10-year-old boy when Bobby lifted that trophy, and I’m sure it will flow it’s like I see Millie doing it too,” said Simon White, who owns a London Bridge pub with his son and wears every England top he can find. owned the entire tournament to show his support.
There are still many questions to be answered in the final, such as whether Will Wiegman will immediately return James to the starting XI or whether he will only have a place on the bench; how the Lionesses midfield handled the technical prowess of this Spanish side and; which players will be key in decisive moments.
But win or lose on Sunday, this side has survived the collapse of expectations that would make them one of the world’s most famous teams on the pitch.
Off the pitch, England’s Euros victory is a catalyst for the development of the game and more urgent discussions about the inclusion of sport at all national levels, the gender pay gap, and wider giving power of young women.
The team is still at loggerheads with the Football Association (FA) in a dispute over bonuses, a conversation that was halted before the World Cup. With other teams including Jamaica, Spain, and Nigeria also having issues with their respective federations, the hope is that this tournament will bring about change.
“I think there are a lot of factors going on behind this Women’s World Cup,” Olow said.