Sam Kerr got her first start of the World Cup. Possibly the best striker on Earth still wasn’t fully fit, but the Chelsea starlet at 80 percent is better than most in prime form. The Australian juggernaut scored one of the best goals of the tournament in the 63rd minute with her club teammate, Millie Bright, right in her face from outside the box. And all of that spirit, both from the co-hosting crowd and on the pitch, didn’t lead the Matildas to their first World Cup final. Instead, an England squad most predicted to be in over its head with a deep tournament, are headed to the global championship.
The Three Lionesses scored first, and didn’t let Kerr’s equalizer faze them. The British put two second-half goals in the net for a decisive 3-1 victory over Australia, advancing to Sunday morning’s final against Spain. Both teams are in the final for the first time and a new world champion will be crowned for the first time since 2011. And we have an all-European final for the first time since 2003. Spain entered the tournament as a dark-horse pick to win the tournament and have lived up to that potential despite a 4-0 loss to Japan to end the group stage. England has rarely looked dominant during the tournament, but saved its best performance at the World Cup for Wednesday morning.
The English have been depleted by injuries, and have star Lauren James on the bench due to a suspension. That two-match ban is up after the semifinals and arguably England’s best player can suit up against Spain. What a weird journey it has been for the Three Lionesses, who are arguably worse than they were last summer when they won the European, have found themselves in a major final for the second straight year. Last summer ended the country’s senior-level drought without a trophy since 1966. Now, the women can lead the charge again while their male counterparts stay cohesively relevant and winless. Even when trying to stay in the shadows, the men are unsuccessful.
Sunday’s championship will be a rematch from the quarterfinals of last summer’s European championships, where England defeated Spain in extra time. Unlike the British however, Spain is no doubt better than it was last summer. There’s a fresh-faced swagger to the Spaniards, while England have been deep in this tournament before, falling in the last two semifinals to the previous two teams to lift a World Cup trophy, Japan and the United States. Spain has so many weapons, like England, but we’ll see a much different game than either semifinal matchup because of how the combatants are alike.
Spain will have more of the possession, England will look to be lethal on the counter-attack. Book it now. And both teams will like their odds with both of those things being true. If England plays like it did Wednesday, Spain will have its hands full and there’s no doubt despite how much the Spaniards’ profile has grown throughout the tournament, they’re entering the final as the underdogs. And that’ll be just fine with Spain as well, knocking out tournament favorites since its loss to Japan in fellow-dark-horse Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Sweden en route to the final. England’s route hasn’t been as challenging, and it’s looked less impressive outside of Wednesday morning, defeating Colombia and Nigeria in the Round of 16 and quarterfinals respectively. Who am I to doubt England anymore? It’s probably coming home.