This story first appeared in Extra Time, our pop-up newsletter about the 2023 Women’s World Cup. Get it in your inbox by subscribing here.
Thanks for the memories
After Spain’s convincing 1-0 win over England in the World Cup final—soccer may be the only sport where a 1-0 victory can count as dominant—a few reflections on what we’ve witnessed over the past month in Australia and New Zealand:
European Aggression. For the first time at a women’s World Cup, three European countries placed 1-2-3: Spain, England, and Sweden. For years, we’ve been hearing about how the rest of the world is closing the talent gap with the United States, a singular force in women’s soccer for decades. This World Cup makes it more than official.
Spain did not offer a domestic professional league until 2021. Spain now also holds the under-17, under-20, and senior World Cup titles at the same time. More European countries are sure to follow the Spanish—and for that matter, English—blueprint, and have top club teams pour academy and other resources into developing women’s soccer talent. The women’s soccer landscape has changed forever.
New Kids On The Block. We enjoyed watching the breakout players and teams shine. Colombia's Linda Caicedo, 18, has already overcome ovarian cancer to thrive on the World Cup stage: just watch her amazing shot, again, against Germany. Salma Paralluelo, 19, of Spain will be a force for the next decade (more on her later). England’s Lauren James, 21, was embroiled in an unfortunate controversy for stepping on a Nigerian player in the round of 16. But her bad behavior in that moment shouldn’t overshadow her promise as a player.
Some surprise teams made noise too. South Africa, making just its second World Cup appearance, made the round of 16. World Cup title contenders Germany and Canada did not even survive the group stage. The Colombia-Jamaica round of 16 game ensured that one team of those teams would make its first-ever quarterfinal appearance: Jamaica, who due to lack of federation and government funding resorted to online fundraising to get the Reggae Girlz down under, was playing in just the second World Cup in its nation’s history. (Colombia won 1-0). Morocco made history on multiple fronts. The Atlas Lionesses, making their first-ever World Cup appearance, became the first Arab or North African nation to advance to the knockout stage in women’s World Cup history. Morocco’s Nouhaila Benzinaalso became the first Muslim woman to wear a hijab at the World Cup.
Hosts With The Most. Three cheers for Australia. The co-host nation captured the imagination of not only the home fans, but the world: Fox Sports analyst Aly Wagnernamed Sam Kerr’s goal against England in the semifinal as her favorite moment of the tournament, and I’d have to agree with her. I, for one, shouted when she marched downfield and converted the long attempt to tie the game in the second half. Sure, England went on to win 3-1. But when a superstar makes such a superstar play in such a huge moment, you don’t forget it.
Australia and New Zealand hosted the best-attended tournament in women’s World Cup history. The next host, which will be named in 2024, has a tough act to follow.
American Crash. America’s near-disastrous performance in the group stage and inability to finish off a game it should have won against Sweden caused considerable consternation back home. “The player of that match was that post,” Carl Lloyd memorably said after Portugal nearly scored late in its final group stage game against the U.S., which would have eliminated the U.S. women’s national team (USWNT) very, very early.
Lloyd pinned the struggles of the U.S. team on off-field distractions, especially the pursuit of endorsements and commercial success. As the tournament wore on, it became more and more apparent that Lloyd’s analysis might have been off. It’s not that the rest of the world has closed the talent gap with the United States; it’s that teams like Spain have exceeded the U.S. in talent. “I don’t even think we have two of the top 25 players in the world,” Wagner tells Extra Time.
The USWNT needs to get to work. Fast.
Your Winner of the Golden Ball … as the tournament’s best player, is Spain’s Aitana Bonmatí, who in the World Cup final won possession back nine times, made two interceptions and won both of her tackles. Against Switzerland in the round of 16, Bonmatí scored twice in Spain's 5-1 win. She also had two assists in the match, accounting for four of Spain's five goals. Bonmatí is winning everything in sight this year: with Barcelona last season, she won Liga F, the Women's Champions League and the Spanish Super Cup.
Your Winner of the Golden Boot … as the tournament’s leading goal scorer, is Japan’s Hinata Miyazawa. Japan got knocked out in the quarters, but Miyazawa still led the field with 5 goals. She scored 2 of the in the group stage, in Japan’s dominant 4-0 trouncing off .. Spain, the eventual World Cup champs.
Your Winner of the Golden Glove … as the tournament’s top goalkeeper, is Mary Earps, of England. Extra Time contributor and friend Yasmeen Serhan tipped me off to her nickname: “Mary Queen of Stops.” Her penalty shot save against Spain gave England flailing hope in the second half of the final; Earps recorded three clean sheets at this World Cup, and conceded just four goals in seven games.
Rookie of the year
Spain’s Salma Paralluelo was named Young Player of the Tournament: she scored key goals against the Netherlands and Sweden in the quarters and semis, respectively, and earned a start in the final. Although Paralluelo did not score a goal against England, she was a positive presence in the championship game. Up until recently, Paralluelo split her attention among two different sports, track and field and soccer. As a kid, she won a prestigious Barcelona road race, the Jean Bouin , five straight times. She ran the 400-m and 400-m hurdles, and at 15, Paralluelo was the youngest runner on the Spanish team at the European championships.
Until further notice, Paralluelo is now just sticking to soccer. That’s pretty scary for the rest of the world.
Women’s soccer is exploding. The 2023 World Cup proved why. (Front Office Sports)
In case you missed it: highlights of the Spain-England final. (Fox Sports)
Spain celebrates back home after a score. (Guardian)
To all who subscribed to and read Extra Time throughout the tournament: thank you so much. Writing this newsletter was so much fun. In a World Cup filled with so many important and breakthrough moments, there was so much to discuss in each edition. Thanks to everyone who wrote in, even those who strenuously objected to my “Let Lauren James Play” take, and told me so in very direct terms. All feedback was appreciated. Special shoutout to Rose Stepnick, a reader whose careful observations helped inform what we were doing here.
I hope you found Extra Time informative and entertaining during this World Cup summer. Until next time.
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