Lionesses on historic terrain that can raise women’s football to another level


The final frontier for the Lionesses.

A day for dreams to be fulfilled – as England face their date with destiny and the prospect of becoming World Cup winners.

Fans are scattered throughout the bars of Sydney savouring the magnitude of what awaits on Sunday night against Spain.

“Whether we win or not – as a country and for the Women’s World Cup we’ve won,” one England fan told Sky News, soaking up the pre-final buildup in a bar on Saturday night.

“It’s a massive step for women’s football. But damn I want to win tomorrow. Everything I’ve dreamed of since I was a child.”

England's Lauren Hemp celebrates scoring their second goal against Australia in their semi-final
England’s Lauren Hemp celebrates scoring their second goal against Australia in their semi-final

Dreams of trophies. But contesting such a final, on such a stage as Stadium Australia seemed just a dream for these players growing up.

“I think it will be the biggest moment in our careers,” England captain Millie Bright said. “It’s obviously a dream come true.”

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So it feels for Spain players who grew up only seeing the men’s game with the limelight and investment.

“We have grown up thinking that football was something that didn’t belong to us – there were always obstacles,” Spain captain Irene Paredes. “It was not our space, or at least that is what they made us feel.”

They know the pioneers of women’s football went generations before.

Soccer Football - FIFA Women's World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023 - Fans in London gather for Australia v England - BOXPARK Wembley, London, Britain - August 16, 2023 England fans celebrate after Alessia Russo scores their third goal Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra
England fans are hoping to see the Lionesses lift the World Cup trophy for the first time

These Lionesses – along with La Roja – have propelled the game to a new level.

They stand on the brink of being England’s first World Cup winners since the men in 1966.

The teams are bonded through the nation’s footballing history.

Historical challenges

But the Lionesses have had to overcome historical challenges.

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Equal billing as footballers was denied by misogyny – with women banned from playing football in England for half a century until the 1970s.

The gender pay gap in the sport remains vast.

By Sunday night, the most successful England team of all time could be the one guided to glory by Sarina Wiegman – the first person to manage two different countries in World Cup finals after losing with her native Netherlands in 2019.

Captain Millie Bright
Captain Millie Bright

Just like at the European Championship, England have swept into the final by winning every game so far at the Women’s World Cup.

Success in Sydney would complete a double a year after lifting European silverware.

But don’t forget how close the Lionesses came to a quarter-final exit from their home tournament – just six minutes from losing.

Spain awaits

Spain stand in England's way
Spain stand in England’s way – and their form has been stunning

And to whom? Spain – the opponents awaiting in Stadium Australia.

But four of that starting line-up are not in Australia after being part of a mutiny against coach Jorge Vilda over demands for a more professional environment.

“Next question please,” he responded when asked about the revolt on the eve of the final.

Of the 15 players who withdrew from consideration for Spain only three returned to the fold for the World Cup – Ona Batlle, Aitana Bonmati and Mariona Caldentey.

Back in July 2022, the Lionesses produced the equaliser against Spain through Ella Toone and went on to secure their semi-final place through Georgia Stanway in extra time.

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Both players remain part of this run to the final – although Toone’s starting spot owes much to Lauren James being suspended for the last two matches in Australia.

The return of James gives England options.

The Chelsea forward had a team-leading three goals before her last-16 stamp against Nigeria.

Since then, Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo have also made it to three goals.

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England have had to contend with disruption to selection plans caused by injury with captain Leah Williamson and striker Beth Mead lost before the tournament.

But replacement captain Bright has forged a strong three-woman defensive back-line with Alex Greenwood and Jess Carter.

New territory

They are facing a Spain packed with goal threats – even with two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas yet to make her usual devastating impact after recovering from an ACL injury.

Jennifer Hermoso, Alba Redondo and Aitana Bonmati have all notched up a trio of goals each.

But look down the Golden Boot chart and there is the formidable teen force of Salma Paralluelo who has two goals.

Soccer Football - FIFA Women's World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023 - England Press Conference - Stadium Australia, Sydney, Australia - August 19, 2023 England manager Sarina Wiegman during the press conference REUTERS/Hannah Mckay
Coach Sarina Weigman

The 19-year-old winger wasn’t even in the squad at Euro 2022 – showing how Spain’s strength just keeps on growing at only their third Women’s World Cup and the furthest they have ever reached.

The Lionesses have made it to the last four at the three World Cups by contrast – and that pedigree should count in their favour.

But they have never made it to a final before.

This is the first all-European Women’s World Cup final since 2003, that represents a power shift as cash and commitment to women’s football on the continent has been accelerated.

This is historic terrain that can raise women’s football to another level in England – and elevate the legendary status of the Lionesses.