If you bounce around the non-Spain or England-based internet, you may find that this World Cup Final is a Final no one wanted. Australia would have been more exciting given the noise that would have accompanied them. One of the real upstarts like Colombia would have been a real story. USWNT fans don’t like watching anyone else in that spot. England is…well, England. Haven’t exactly spent centuries winning the hearts and minds of the world over, have they? And Spain, despite their collection of delightful players and the most watchable style, can’t escape the narrative of the players that aren’t here.
On the field, a better final couldn’t really be asked for. These are probably the two best teams in the world, whatever horseshit the FIFA rankings throw up. While England haven’t exactly flourished in this tournament most of the time, they are the reigning European champions and have shown a level of composure and bloody-mindedness that only comes with having that sort of pedigree. Spain have alternated between blowing teams away, getting domed themselves, and then showing some heart as well as variety to get here. There isn’t a test that these two teams haven’t seen and passed on the way here.
There’s also a heavy representation of the peak of women’s soccer, both in club and league. England are obviously made up almost entirely of players from the WSL, which very well may have usurped the NWSL as the best league in the world. And if it hasn’t, it will soon. Where England aren’t represented through the WSL, they have two players from Barcelona (Kiera Walsh and Lucy Bronze), unquestionably the best club team in the world. And Spain is heavily composed of Barca as well. This is a Final harvested from the very top of the game.
And yet, Spain’s presence here is uncomfortable, through no fault of the players who deserve the chance to claim the game’s top prize. But there isn’t a fan, pro-Spain or no, who isn’t dreading the sight of Jorge Vilda or Spanish FA President Luis Rubiales grinning and holding the trophy and posing for pictures and exalting in a glory that a good portion of the playing squad would say have been their biggest obstacles to achieving such a thing. To most, it would be a cursed image.
Which isn’t fair to the players. It would probably be more impressive if this squad, shorthanded in the way they are with 12 of the 15 players who originally began the fight against Vilda and the Spanish FA still out of the squad and also playing for a coach they don’t feel is up to the task, was able to still win the tournament. Of course, Spain being the macho culture it can be, there’s been a backlash to their protests, with small-minded ogres delighting in the FA ignoring the players’ claims and pleas and keeping Vilda from being yet another “victim of cancel culture,” with the team’s success “proof” that they should just know their place. But in sports these days, there’s a backlash to everything. A seedy underbelly that might only live on Twitter that can color everything. It would be folly to let that sort of thing define an enormous accomplishment like this.
Perhaps Spain winning would give the players a bigger platform, and bigger bullhorn to call out what they’ve been put up against in the past. After all, the USWNT’s quest for equal pay was only aided by their 2019 triumph. It’s one thing for an FA to act in opposition to a team that has never won a knockout game, as Spain hadn’t before this tournament. It’s another to piss off one holding the trophy, at least when it comes to public perception. And public perception will always play a role in these kinds of fights. That sort of thing shouldn’t matter when it comes to providing the proper support to the women’s team, but it would be silly to think it doesn’t.
Or perhaps the gap between Vilda and Sarina Wiegman in opposing dugouts makes it clear to everyone just what Spain have been missing, and what their FA has hamstrung their brilliant roster with. That could certainly play out, though Vilda has been able to make some adjustments during the tournament to get Spain here (more direct at times, Paralluelo as a super-sub, the change in keeper and defense after the Japan what-have-ya to keep their high line intact). Wiegman may be the best manager going in either the women’s or men’s game now (and there’s already a little buzz about the English FA kicking her over to the other side to replace Gareth Southgate after Euro 2024), and will be scheming out to get Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo and Lauren James/Ella Toone loose on the counter. A true tactical pantsing from England will only make it clearer to Spanish followers what the problems are.
Maybe it’s all a bit pie-eyed, given how stubborn and obtuse the Spanish FA have already proven to be, eschewing the services of 12 gifted players just to keep an underqualified manager in place simply to prove they won’t be told or even have it suggested what to do. Still, the Spain players haven’t had the kind of hammer to wield a group gets from winning a major tournament before. It’s worked for others before.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social