With the Women’s World Cup semi-finals wrapped up, all eyes now turn to the final showdown between heavyweights Spain and England on Sunday.
The phenomenal tournament Down Under has thrown out plenty of surprises thus far, with the latest round of games proving to be no exception.
Here’s seven things to take away from the semi-finals, Spain vs Sweden and England vs Australia.
1.England continue to show strength and depth
🚨 GOAL! 🚨
Ella Toone gets the opener to put England 🏴 1-0 up against Australia 🇦🇺 in the 35th minute ⚽️
Herself and Russo showing that while they were impact subs during the Euros, they’re vital to Sarina Wiegman here at the #FIFAWWC
— Alanna Cunnane (@acunnane10) August 16, 2023
Coming into the Australia and New Zealand competition, England looked less than convincing without two of their biggest Euros heroes in goalscorer Beth Mead and captain Leah Williamson, both of whom are out with ACL injuries.
Ahead of the group stages, they were bouncing back from a warm-up match loss to the Matildas - the only loss in Sarina Wiegman’s tenure - and were to face that same test in the Women’s World Cup semi-finals.
They passed that examination with flying colours, overcoming the hosts 3-1 in a game that further showcased beyond doubt the strength and depth of the team, as well as their ability to overcome adversity.
Previously they displayed how they could cope without Keira Walsh, and in this fixture, one of their recent standout players Lauren James was absent for the second successive time after she picked up a red card against Nigeria.
Wiegman has the team set up to adapt and overcome, changing formation and personnel where necessary. Alessia Russo and Ella Toone perhaps best exemplify this point, with the pair coming through with a goal each, alongside one from Lauren Hemp in the semi-final clash.
During their last Euros campaign, the duo mainly featured off the bench but have since solidified themselves as stalwarts for the Lionesses, dazzling in a team already full to the brim of stars.
QF - vs Spain at Euro 2022 🎯
SF - vs Australia at 2023 WWC 🎯
Final - vs Germany at Euro 2022 🎯
Ella Toone has become the first England player (men & women) to score in a major tournament quarter-final, semi-final and final 😤#FIFAWWC pic.twitter.com/BDO2u6QF49
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) August 16, 2023
2.Spain are still succeeding in spite of Vilda
— Gal Pal Sports (@GalPalSports) August 16, 2023
Spain continue to progress in the tournament, but so too does the tension between the team and their manager, Jorge Vilda.
Ballon d'Or winner Alexia Putellas showed an example of the disdain when she was substituted off during their eventual 2-1 victory over Sweden, highlighting the dynamics in the La Roja camp in which they continue to triumph amid a background of controversy.
Even without some of their major players, who aren't present after they spoke of Vilda's controlling actions and made that clear to the federation, they've made it to their first Women's World Cup final and ignited somewhat complicated celebrations.
Presumably, a win in that final would further cement Vilda's position despite the squad's evident contempt for the 41-year-old, spurring many neutrals in world football to support whoever it was they would play against in a desire for improved setups throughout women's football.
Watched Australian coverage of today's semi-final so missed what was said back home, but sounds like Spain reaching the final is being spun as some sort of redemption arc for Jorge Vilda?
Surely it's fairly obvious their success is in spite of Vilda, rather than because of him
— Nancy Gillen @ FIFA WWC 🇦🇺 (@Nancy_Gillen) August 15, 2023
3. If you didn't already know, Kerr and Gorry are icons
SAM KERR'S THUNDERBASTARD!pic.twitter.com/Tq5szgNJZF
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) August 16, 2023
Before the Women’s World Cup semi-finals, Chelsea forward Sam Kerr had only played around 90 minutes of tournament football as a result of the calf injury she picked up the day before the opening game vs Ireland.
During their clash against England, she started and completed the entire match, providing a moment of magic to drag the home side back into the match, and explaining why it is she's such a fan favourite.
Another Australian player held in high esteem is Katrina Gorry, who picked up her 100th cap in the same outing.
What was the most remarkable thing about her appearance however was that it fell exactly two years on from the birth of her daughter, Harper.
Centurion, leader, legend and mum, it was quite the occasion for the Vittsjö GIK player.
🗓️ #OnThisDay in 2021 @KatrinaGorry became a mum for the first time
⏩ Two years, and she's bringing up a century of #Matildas caps - in a #FIFAWWC Semi-Final 🙌#GoMatildas #TilItsDonehttps://t.co/p60Q4MQGkY
— CommBank Matildas (@TheMatildas) August 16, 2023
4.Wiegman’s formidable record is prolonged once again
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) August 16, 2023
Sarina Wiegman's record at England in all capacities is simply outstanding.
This 2023 World Cup is her fourth dabble at a major international tournament, and in each of those four, she's made the final.
She's the first manager in history to lead two different nations to a World Cup final, with the Netherlands falling just short to the USA in 2019.
Wiegman also has only notched one loss in her entire England tenure of 37 games, and following her latest Euros success will be hopeful they can go on to secure the World Cup accolade now.
2017 Euros 🏆
2019 World Cup 🥈
2021 Euros 🏆
2023 World Cup ⏳
Sarina Wiegman has managed in four major international tournaments and reached the final every single time 🥶️#FIFAWWC pic.twitter.com/7DZhdoVi82
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) August 16, 2023
5. Keepers are the story of the tournament?
A unsung story from this WWC: the rebirth of Cata Coll.
In February 2022, she tore her ACL and spent the next year in recovery. On Sunday she’ll be playing in a World Cup Final. pic.twitter.com/Ir46wiPspR
— total Barça (@totalBarca) August 16, 2023
All four of the Women’s World Cup semi-finals goalkeepers had their own storylines throughout the tournament, with Spain's Cata Coll and England's Mary Earps coming out on the winning sides to the disappointment of Australia's Mackenzie Arnold and Sweden's Zećira Mušović.
This came to the fore once again in the most recent round of matches.
Coll further solidified herself as Spain's No.1 despite not starting for her club side Barcelona and going without a game for 90 days, staring down the barrel of shots from Fridolina Rolfo and Co. but coming out on top in the end.
Earps on the other hand fell victim to a goal from her kryptonite in Kerr once again but stopped the Australian and her teammates on many other occasions throughout the match, further emphasising her brilliance as well as the need for that to be recognised on the world stage.
Mary’s one of my favourite England players. I get it’s not just Nike that do this, but how mad a decision not to produce & sell England GK shirts when that goalkeeper is Mary Earps. And while she’s the reigning FIFA Best GK. And a reigning European Champion. Find that v weird. https://t.co/5IUBhvuu35
— Laura Woods (@laura_woodsy) July 20, 2023
6. Spain need to be more clinical
Barcelona teammates Fridolina Rolfö and Aitana Bonmati swapped shirts after the game ❤️💙 pic.twitter.com/impuzuBd23
— B/R Football (@brfootball) August 15, 2023
Recovering from her ACL injury, Putellas doesn't seem to be firing on all cylinders just yet, but nor do any of the Spanish side really.
Salma Celeste Parralluelo may be surging but the Spanish attack have yet to fully flourish and make that evident every time they take to the pitch.
Against Sweden they had 13 shots, with just two landing on target, albeit it came to be that those two were the decisive factors on the scoreboard.
England had them well contained in their Euros match-up at the Amex Stadium in Brighton last year, with the Lionesses emerging 2-1 winners.
If Spain are to claim a different fate on Sunday they'll need to capitalise on their chances and be more clinical, getting Putellas, Aitana Bonmatí, Mariona Caldentey and Jenni Hermoso back to top form.
✅️ 11 Barça players qualified for the #FIFAWWC final:
🇪🇸 Cata Coll, Irene Paredes, Laia Codina, Ona Batlle, Maria Pérez, Alexia Putellas, Aitana Bonmatí, Mariona Caldentey, Salma Paralluelo
🏴 Lucy Bronze, Keira Walsh pic.twitter.com/IevszDOMIQ
— Barça Femení (@BarcaFem) August 16, 2023
7. It’s going to be a cracker of a final
— FIFA Women's World Cup (@FIFAWWC) August 15, 2023
Both Spain and England are known for their attacking firepower, so there's no doubt Sunday's game will be worthy of the occasion.
La Roja showed their true intent when they slotted away the winner just 90 seconds after Sweden had equalised in their semi-final, while Wiegman's squad testified to their character when they came out swinging against Australia right from the off.
Both sides have never reached this point before, depicting the growth of the women's game in that there will be a new winner of the World Cup for the first time since 2011, when Japan were triumphant over the United States in a thrilling final.
They'll each be aspiring to put the cherry on top of their outstanding run come Sunday.
🏴 From dreamers to finalists…
A historic night in Sydney! Alessia Russo's goal from a lightning Lauren Hemp counter was the cherry on top as the Lionesses sealed a first-ever #FIFAWWC final spot.
A legacy moment for today's #SpotlightOfTheDay!@Budweiser pic.twitter.com/5wWriLFFkx
— FIFA Women's World Cup (@FIFAWWC) August 16, 2023