22 Aug Highs and lows of Women’s World Cup: From Spain’s off-pitch battles to breakout stars
The planes are leaving Sydney airport, teams long since having returned to domestic commitments, players given little reprieve before the return to half-spent campaigns or the grueling grind of pre-season — the next international window looming on the horizon for a chance to reconvene with those they’ve shared busses and hotels with for over a month.
The fans have gone too, back to their daily lives, the warmth of summer fading as fast as the setting sun over Stadium Australia, the tournament haze blurring the memories of cold nights spent on either side of the Tasman Sea, the goals and saves, tackles and hope running together, 90 minutes after 90 melding into an indistinct blob.
Olga Carmona‘s World Cup winning goal for Spain the easiest moment to pick out, but then there was Sam Kerr‘s strike that made a nation erupt, the bookend at the end of the shelf, facing Hannah Wilkinson‘s goal for New Zealand against Norway 31 days prior.
The Sophia Braun goal against South Africa to inject hope into a struggling Argentina team, Brazil‘s samba against Panama, Marta Cox‘s stunner against France, Hervé Renard’s white shirts and Solène Durand‘s cameo. History for debutantes, first steps taken at a World Cup with memories sealed for a lifetime for players and fans from emerging nations, goals and wins scrawling names into the history books for team after team.
Katie McCabe‘s Olimpico goal for Ireland and Olivia McDaniels‘ saves in Wellington, Norway’s comeback and Japan‘s brilliance, Spain’s resilience and Sweden‘s margins. Battles fought on both sides of the touchline with the repeated word of legacy bringing extra weight to the whole tournament and the fight for better conditions and respect.
The group stage was the biggest blur of them all, the relentless pace of matches leaving little time to catch your breath. Tournaments were over before they’d begun for those who faltered in their first outings, late salvation for some, but little time for neutrals to dwell. Germany‘s earliest ever exit and the U.S. saved by the post to be cut down by the woodwork one match later. Shocks for some, warnings not heeded for others, the growing sense that simply having world class players wouldn’t be enough for progression with the game growing and coaching improving, luck still having its part to play in the chaos.
The moments continue to roll through the mind, snapshots clipped, never to be experienced in full again. The first time feeling of seeing the spectacle playing out, the roar of Brisbane’s Lang Park for Cortnee Vine‘s winning penalty against France, the gasps for Colombia’s Linda Caicedo‘s belter against Germany, the pain shared as tears fell from glassy eyed players, bodies spent, races run, dreams of glory dashed for another tournament. New names learned as those on the periphery stepped into the spotlight, veterans and legends put in their last yards, their spotlights flickering before burning out. Take offs and landing at airports across the two hosting nations.
Fouls and flirtation on the pitch as the biggest ever women’s World Cup with the biggest ever field was cut down to the familiar 16 and then eight. Nations grew as most fell, the final lineup erring on the predictable side with three European nations and none outside of the last top ten. Moments in the sun had, heartbreak and what ifs shared among the disconsolate.
Daniëlle van de Donk‘s swimming cap, Spain’s boredom in Palmerston North and Klara Bühl‘s knitted koala (Waru) fading footnotes as each host city pulled down its FIFA branding, stadium names returning to sponsors as the circus left town after town until only Sydney remained standing.
Had it all been so predictable? Or just like opting for the soup rather than the melon for a starter, the main course decided before you sat down. It had hit the palate differently, the flavour not the same as before but the main event more of the familiar.
Lawson: Lasting legacy will give Matildas tangible World Cup prize
Sophie Lawson reacts to Australia’s 2-0 defeat to Sweden in the third-place playoff game at the Women’s World Cup.
A new champion confirmed by Sweden who personally removed two from the running: the end of Americas dominance or just a protracted transition for the gargantuan of women’s football? The tournament of millimeters and long-forgotten penalties had more history to write.
The ambivalence and cognitive dissonance around Spain’s berth at the final, Carmona’s finish, and a dedication to the late mother of a friend, the news of her own father’s passing the news no one expected. The match already swirling and blurring before Luis Rubiales stole the spotlight, his actions a microcosm of what so many women in the game have endured from grassroots all the way up to presidents of federations. Gianni Infantino’s fabled door too oft bolted shut from the inside, hiding the indiscretions and abuses of power against girls and women who want to play.
The biggest tournament women’s football had ever seen over far too soon, and no, it didn’t come home but hearts swelled and broke with the kick of a ball, Australia plunged into delirium for days after that shootout. The Colombia fans, the persistent Unity Beat, Canada‘s early exit, Melchie Dumornay’s brilliance. The community and kinship, moments shared and friendships forged, a World Cup a hulking entity that made two nations pulsate with football.
Koalas were held, beers drunk, minds changed, but back to some kind of reality tomorrow, Sydney’s departure gates calling for all of us.