It’s a game of opposites in many senses when England and Spain take each other in the FIFA Women’s World Cup final. One side has a seasoned coach raking in the plaudits from fans and adversaries alike and the other finds its coach embroiled in controversy with charges of mismanagement levelled against him. Come Sunday when the FIFA Women’s World Cup final gets underway, none of this will matter. What will count are the 22 players on the pitch - the worthy best in the world.
England and Spain are maiden World Cup finalists, but the Lionesses come into the fixture with the upper hand. In the 11 games these two nations have played against each other (since 2007), England has won six. Most recently, England brushed past Spain to lift the 2022 European Championship in the quarterfinal. That was a drawn out game that went to extra time eventually ending in a 2-1 triumph for the Lionesses.
From there, England went on to win the Euro, while Spain plunged into internal turmoil. This is Spain’s first senior level final, but several players on the roster have been part of age group sides that have made summit clashes over the last decade.
How Spain comes together on the field
The La Roja love holding onto the ball. They’re constantly looking for space and if it’s not available, the midfield goes all out to create them. According to the FIFA Technical Study Group, Jorge Vilda’s side is the top team in the competition for in-possession time spent in the final third.Pressing and winning the ball and creating chances on the counter have both worked for this side thus far.
Vilda has gone with a 4-3-3 formation in this World Cup with the side’s strength lying in its versatile multitasking defence. The likes of Irene Paredes, Ona Battle, Olga Carmona and Laia Codina have not only been solid before goal, but have also worked to guard loose balls from chances and pass them back for scoring or attacking opportunities.
Aitana Bonmati has stepped up to compensate for Alexia Putellas’ slow return from an ACL injury, but this duo along with Teresa Abelleira have raw pace and good communication which makes transitional play seamless for the Spaniards.
Jennifer Hermoso, Mariona Caldentey and Alba Redondo are front line of offence, but for all the effort, have sometimes looked out of ideas to slot the ball to the back of the net. This is where Vilda’s substitutes have come in and stolen the show. Case in point, Salma Paralluelo.
The 19-year-old has changed Spain’s fortunes twice, bringing a victory for the women in red against The Netherlands in the quarterfinal and Sweden in the semifinal. Her flexibility up front and energy make it difficult for any backline to contain her.
Spain’s fullbacks are happiest to build from the wings so England will need to cut supply. The England backline needs to innovate to keep up with Spain’s persistence. Redondo has been the link between the halves for Spain and Sarina Wiegman will plan for her ahead of the final.
The Lionesses will watch Spain’s 0-4 loss to Japan on repeat before the final to see how the Nadeshiko left Spain with no space to create magic, despite them dominating possession. All the little spots of possession, the room to pass, it was all strategically shut out and Spain couldn’t score.
Spain has struggled with set pieces, especially their corners. If Millie Bright, Lucy Bronze and Co. can perfect their aerial interference, Spain can be antagonised.
How England comes together on the field
Wiegman loves to adapt. We’ve seen that with the handling of Kiera Walsh. Vilda channels Barcelona’s successful tiki-taka style into his strategies. England has Barca players Bronze and Kiera Walsh, who are therefore vital in understanding just how potent Spain can be.
England likes being consistent but has had to move with the times courtesy niggles to Walsh and Lauren James’ ban. But Wiegman is not one to complain. This England side has the depth, maybe not as much as Spain has proven it does with the way it’s handling the Las 15 fiasco, but good enough to comfortably cruise into the final.
Wiegman’s 3-5-2 switch may endure in the summit clash. While Spain might dominate possession and passes, England has been better at cutting through opponent formations and finding the goal.
England’s strength lies in its physicality but it’s also more solid and perhaps consequently predictable. The team revels in amassing those clean sheets. They’ve managed four in seven games and will bank on their backline for its adamance and malleability in key moments. It looks like England will be the side to bend in terms of possession as they are comfortable on the counter. Walsh will be key in disrupting that Spain midfield. James’ availability is a shot in the arm for Wiegman. Three goals and three assists, all despite missing two games due to a ban, is incredible numerically, especially when England tangles into its own strategies too much.
Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo will also be important to England’s fortunes and will need to keep darting into Spain’s spaces. One cross can make a world of difference. In the final third, England’s one-on-one pursuits have been remarkable. They have a 40+ percent accuracy in shots on target despite the attempts being on the lower end of the scale. The Lionesses like building from the back and waiting for or creating situations where the opponent errs. How much Spain will fall for that will be a duel worth watching out for,
England has never lost after taking a 1-0 lead in the World Cup and the superstitious ones will hope the Lionesses keep that record intact.
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