Aug 18, 2023, 07:30 AM ET
The final for the 2023 Women’s World Cup is almost here, and these daily files give you the latest reporting from around the tournament as well as betting lines, what-to-watch-for information and best reads. Check in with ESPN throughout the tournament as we bring you the latest from Australia and New Zealand.
The lead: Two games left; one winner to be crowned
Australia vs. Sweden, Lang Park, Brisbane, Australia; Saturday, Aug. 19: 6 p.m. local / 4 a.m. ET / 9 a.m. BST
Odds via Caesars Sportsbook: Australia +185, Draw +230, Sweden +135
BRISBANE, Australia — For Australia, Saturday’s third-place playoff with Sweden represents an opportunity to send off a magical home World Cup on a high, to shrug off the disappointment of a heartbreaking 3-1 loss to England in the semifinals and secure a first-ever podium finish for any senior Australia national team — men’s or women’s — on football’s biggest stage. Tony Gustavsson indicated on Friday that no quarter would be spared and that his strongest line-up would be selected, while the players were in a bullish mood as well.
“You want to win, 100%,” Clare Polkinghorne declared. “We don’t want to walk away with nothing from this. We’ll recover like any other game — we’ve got third place to win.” At just 21 years old, midfielder Kyra Cooney-Cross will likely feature in several future World Cups in green and gold, but she echoed a similar, defiant desire to take something from the coming game. “We’re not leaving here empty-handed,” she said. “We’re definitely going for third place.”
– Women’s World Cup: Landing page | Bracket | Schedule | News
For the Swedes, victory on Saturday would secure them their fourth third-place finish at the World Cup — their third in the past four tournaments — to go along with silver medals at the previous two Olympics. They’ve become experts of a sort on coming so close yet so far, leading to captain Kosovare Asllani declaring after their semifinal loss to Spain that she was “tired of crying big-tournament tears.” Nonetheless, third place is better than fourth, and coach Peter Gerhardsson said the joy of beating England in a playoff four years ago is something they want to experience again — Joey Lynch
Could Wiegman replace Southgate as coach of the England men’s side?
Gab Marcotti & Julien Laurens debate whether Sarina Wiegman could replace Gareth Southgate.
Spain vs. England, Stadium Australia, Sydney; Sunday, Aug. 20: 8 p.m. local, 6 a.m. ET, 11 a.m. BST
Odds via Caesars Sportsbook: Spain +160, Draw +200, England +190
SYDNEY — England have a fully fit squad as they look to complete a remarkable double. Last summer they broke the nation’s long wait for a major trophy when they won Euro 2022, but now they’re looking to add the World Cup title. Coach Sarina Wiegman switched formation midtournament to 3-5-2, and they’ll look to that system to see off Spain. Star forward Lauren James is back in the mix after returning from suspension, but Wiegman faces a selection dilemma over keeping faith with Ella Toone in the No. 10 role or bringing back James.
Leah Williamson, England’s injured captain from the Euros, will be in the stands supporting the Lionesses, and retired legends Jill Scott and Ellen White will also be in Stadium Australia, but this is a new-look England team from the one that won the Euros. England are fully aware of Spain’s threat and have the local knowledge of Barcelona’s Keira Walsh and Lucy Bronze as the Lionesses look to make it two major trophies in 13 months. — Tom Hamilton
Spain coach Jorge Vilda also has some big decisions to make. Vilda has not named the same side twice at the tournament so far, but he might be tempted to stick with the XI that beat Sweden. However, that would mean leaving out Salma Paralluelo once again. The Barcelona teenager started the first four matches at the finals but has starred off the bench in the past two games. She netted the winner against Netherlands in extra time and scored the opener against Sweden. There is no doubt she deserves to start, but will Vilda want to lose her impact off the bench?
The other dilemma centres around Alexia Putellas. The back-to-back Ballon d’Or winner returned to the team against Sweden only to be taken off after an hour. She has not completed 90 minutes since recovering from an ACL injury. Forward Jenni Hermoso could drop into a deeper midfield role, allowing Paralluelo or Esther González to come in if Vilda decides Putellas is not ready. There are also decisions to make at the back, with full-back Oihane Hernández returning from suspension and captain Ivana Andrés fit again. They are all welcome problems for Vilda, though, and demonstrate the depth La Roja have.
Given their star names and success at youth level in recent years, perhaps the biggest surprise is that Spain had never won a knockout game at a major tournament before this World Cup. They feel their time is now and are seeking revenge for last year’s quarterfinal elimination to England at the Euros. — Sam Marsden
Marsden: Salma Paralluelo pivotal in Spain’s semifinal win vs. Sweden
Sam Marsden praises Salma Paralluelo’s influence after coming off the bench to score in Spain’s 2-1 win over Sweden.
Spain 2-1 England. It will be a real clash of styles in the final. European champions England are tough, organised and predictable under Wiegman, and they know how to win. But Spain are the team with the flair and individual brilliance of Paralluelo and Putellas, who is still searching for top form after a long-term cruciate ligament injury. England have the winning pedigree, but Spain are the developing team, and if Paralluelo shines, La Roja will win. — Mark Ogden
England 2-0 Spain. An all-European World Cup final in Sydney to determine the champions of the world. The technical brilliance of Spain against the resourcefulness and adaptability of England. Looking at the way the two teams have played in this tournament, something has got to give with both being ball-dominant sides. I can’t see Spain giving up possession and playing on the counter. Wiegman, though, is one of the best managers in the world, and I fully believe she’ll have a plan ready that can come through. — Lynch
Spain 2-1 England. The team I’ve picked to win has lost ever since the knockout rounds started: the United States, Sweden, now Australia. Based on that alone, it seems Spain will win. The players are incredible to watch, but knowing about the issues the players have had with manager Vilda and the lack of support from their federation makes it hard to fully back them. That said, the Spanish team’s ability to dictate play and score at will is undeniable. La Roja have two of the very best players in the world in Aitana Bonmatí and Putellas, and they play like it. I think it’ll come down to execution, and the Spanish players are just better. — Caitlin Murray
England 2-1 Spain. England have the difference-maker in this final: Wiegman. She knows what it takes to win these tournaments and is the best coach in the world. England will look to take the tempo out of the Spain passing system and control the balance of the match, with Alessia Russo and Lauren Hemp the threats up front. — Hamilton
England 2-1 Spain. It will be close, just as almost all the knockout games have been this tournament, but England will edge it. The Lionesses have found some much-needed momentum (and goals) over the past few games, growing into the World Cup, and have shown incredible calm throughout. Experience will be a factor on Sunday, and, against a Spain side who don’t always make the best decisions, England will find their way through. — Sophie Lawson
England 2-1 Spain. England will make it a Euros-World Cup double on Sunday. Wiegman’s tactical genius has so far gotten England through every obstacle at this tournament and they have found a way to win even when they haven’t looked convincing. Throw in the fact that the Lionesses appear to be getting into a groove at exactly the right time, and their finals experience, and England look the goods. That being said, Spain will be no easy beats and goals should come from both sides. La Roja’s best is exceptionally good, but England will find a way to crush Spanish dreams. — Marissa Lordanic
Lordanic: Devastation for Matildas after semifinal loss to England
Marissa Lordanic reacts to Australia’s 3-1 loss to England in the semifinal of the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
Sights and sounds
TV ratings a winner despite Matildas’ heartbreaking loss
MELBOURNE, Australia — The Matildas’ efforts to secure a fairy-tale World Cup win on home soil came to a heartbreaking end on Wednesday evening, but Australia continued to smash records in support of them nonetheless. Yet again, television rating records were smashed as the nation rallied around its women in green and gold: free-to-air broadcaster the Seven Network has declared that its broadcast of the Matildas’ 3-1 loss to the Lionesses was the most-watched television program in Australia since 2001, when the current rating system was established.
Per the broadcaster, the semifinal clash reached 11.15 million Australians at some point during its broadcast (approx. 41% of the total population), with an average audience of 7.13m (approx 26.7%).
The Matildas have already smashed the previous benchmarks in Australian ratings history, such as Ash Barty’s win at the 2022 Australian Open, Lleyton Hewitt’s loss at that same event in 2005, and England’s win over the Wallabies in the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Given that the Seven Network figures don’t include those watching the contest on Optus Sport — who on-sold the rights to select games, including Matildas’ matches, to the free-to-air network — or those watching at pubs, clubs and the dozens of live sites across the country, the number of viewers for the game could even surpass the record set when more than 8 million Australians watched as Cathy Freeman won gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics under the previous rating scheme.
Given that several members of the squad, including Sam Kerr, cite Freeman as their childhood inspiration, the Matildas breaking that mark would represent a piece of romantic serendipity. — Lynch
Early USWNT exit a motivating force?
SYDNEY — Former two-time Women’s World Cup-winning coach Jill Ellis said the failure of the United States women’s national team at this year’s tournament should galvanize leaders to make changes and be a turning point in the sport in the country.
“Do I see it as a step back? No, I see it as a motivating force,” Ellis told reporters at the FIFA Women’s Football Convention on Friday. “People need to come to the table. We can spur more collaboration. Maybe this is a moment and reflection point for us to get together and for stakeholders to work out a bigger plan.”
Such discussions should include changes at the U.S. youth development level, she added.
“At the end of the day, you want the best players to train with the best players,” Ellis said. “I mean, the ECNL had a 6-0 semifinal. There’s so much disparity in that league, and it’s the best.”
The Elite Clubs National League, or ECNL, is the premier youth developmental league in the United States for girls.
“The beauty of the smaller countries is they get the best to train with each other, so how do we look at that environment?” Ellis added. “How do we get the best coaches in the youth environment? The training environment matters.” — Murray
Alessia Russo ready for World Cup final ‘dream’ vs. Spain
Alessia Russo speaks about playing in a World Cup final and whether England are treating the game any differently.
News of the day
– Former Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg led the backlash against Gianni Infantino on Friday after the FIFA president said women need to “pick the right battles” and “convince men” to enforce change. The Norway and Lyon striker responded to Infantino on X (formerly Twitter) after his speech, which came ahead of Sunday’s Women’s World Cup final between England and Spain in Sydney. She wrote ironically: “Working on a little presentation to convince men. Who’s in?” Infantino had earlier hit back at critics at the FIFA Women’s Football Convention, saying that expanding the tournament to 32 teams has turned out to be a success and that “FIFA was right” to do so.
– Australia coach Gustavsson said there will be no room for sentimentality at the selection table in the World Cup third-place playoff against Sweden, with it his intention that the strongest possible side will take the field. Alanna Kennedy was ruled out with delayed onset concussion symptoms on Friday morning, but the rest of the squad trained, albeit Katrina Gorry, her left leg encased in a pressure bandage, was on an individualised, lighter load during the portion of training open to the media. “If it was emotional, those players would play because they deserve to play,” he said. “But I can’t pick based on emotions. This is a third-placed game, we’re playing for a medal. I’m gonna make sure we have a line-up there that is the strongest starting line-up we can have but also the strongest finishing line-up. I’m just going to plan what I think is best for the team in this one game and not look at it as a bigger picture than that. It’s not about giving players experience just for the sake of giving experience. This is a game to win.”
– England’s determination to host the FIFA Women’s World Cup could be on hold until 2035 at the earliest due to the English FA opting against an attempt to bid to stage the 2027 competition. UK government Sports Minister Stuart Andrew said last month “it is a matter of when not whether” the country would submit a bid to host the competition, but the situation facing England is more complex than simply entering the bidding race. The FA has already accepted that a joint bid involving Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands will be Europe’s sole submission for 2027, with South Africa, Brazil and a U.S.-Mexico effort also aiming for the hosting rights. A decision on the hosts will be made in May 2024.
A successful Germany-Belgium-Netherlands bid would rule out a European host nation in 2031, so the English FA, although keen to capitalise on the accelerated growth of women’s football and last year’s successful staging of Euro 2022, are now prepared to play the long game to win hosting rights in the future.
“In terms of bidding, we’re obviously conscious we’ve had a lot of tournaments,” English FA CEO Mark Bullingham said. “We’ve put a bid in for Euro 2028, and that’s obviously a big commitment. We would love to host the Women’s World Cup one day, don’t get any doubt on that, but if you look at the landscape, you’ve got Germany, Belgium and Netherlands bidding for 2027, so potentially be the one after that .”
England hasn’t hosted a men’s World Cup since 1966, and a proposed joint UK bid for 2030 has been dropped. There are no existing plans to bid for a subsequent Men’s World Cup, but the women’s event is a more likely target. “There are 211 countries in FIFA, and the fact is we’ve had the women’s Euros so recently, we’ve had the men’s Euros final, we’re hopefully going to secure the men’s Euros for 2028; that’s actually a lot of Euros in our country at one time, clearly the next step would be to get a World Cup, men’s or women’s,” Bullingham added. “And I think a Women’s World Cup could be brilliant for us and brilliant for the game.” — Ogden
– Seeking to attach itself to the momentum that has seen the Matildas break attendance and rating records across Australia, the A-League Women (ALW) competition will launch before its men’s counterpart for the first time in 2023-24, attempting to break domestic attendance records in a stand-alone opening round this October. The coming season will mark the first time the ALW features 12 teams and a full home-and-away season — the only major footballing code in Australia to do so — and commissioner Nick Garcia said the league wants to see “more fans in bigger venues cheering on our stars” across its first week. The ALW has consistently battled for mainstream recognition in Australia, magnified in recent years as members of the Matildas squad struck out to play in European leagues — Lynch
The Women’s World Cup trophy will go to a new home this year. Ulrik Pedersen/DeFodi Images via Getty Images
Features of the day
Meet the man in charge of every 2023 Women’s World Cup pitch
Arguably the most important, yet ignored, figure at the World Cup is the man responsible for every single pitch used in Australia and New Zealand.
‘Mystic Meerkats’ predict England Women’s World Cup final run
England’s run through the Women’s World Cup knockout phase to the final has been predicted, game by game, by meerkats at Drusillas Park.
Five things the USWNT must do before the 2024 Olympics
After a disastrous Women’s World Cup, the USWNT needs serious reform with destination Paris less than a year away.
And finally …
Tazuni, a fun, football-loving penguin, has been this World Cup’s mascot. Ane Frosaker/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images
SYDNEY — Alex Chidiac’s hopes of reaching the final were dashed when she and her Australia teammates suffered a 3-1 defeat to England in their semifinal, but there’s still one major prize she’s after: teatime with Women’s World Cup mascot Tazuni.
A longtime appreciator of the mascot arts, Chidiac has taken a particular affinity to Tazuni — a Eudyptula penguin native to Australia and New Zealand. Ever since Tazuni’s reveal ahead of the tournament, Chidiac has gone as far as to don a penguin outfit when she and other Matildas met the mascot last November.
The talented midfielder has owned an Emperor penguin plush since her childhood, a toy that follows her on her travels around the world as an emotional stand-in for her mother, who also owns a small penguin plush representing Chidiac. With the tournament almost over, Chidiac is becoming slightly concerned that Tazuni hasn’t been returning her calls.
“Is there anything we get, like a Tazuni plush toy?” Chidiac asked. “[Tazuni] leaves after the game. The live one leaves after the game, and I’d like to celebrate with her. Just to hang out. I’ve been wanting to get a cup of tea with her since I met her; she’s been ghosting me.”
More seriously, Chidiac’s continued dearth of minutes this World Cup has become a significant point of consternation in the Australian fanbase.
One of the Matildas’ most technically proficient players, one who is willing to embrace risk and possesses the talent to slice open a defence, the 24-year-old has featured just twice this tournament off the bench and, on both occasions, was thrown on with her side down 3-1 and the game largely settled.
“It’s always up to the coach at the end of the day,” Chidiac told reporters when asked what she felt she needed to do to play. “So it’s tough for me to say what else I need to do — it’s not up to me. I’m just trying to do my best every session and put myself forward in any way possible.” — Lynch