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    Vilda vindicated as discord turns to delight

    Updated: 2023-08-22 09:17
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    Spain head coach Jorge Vilda celebrates his team's victory in the FIFA Women's World Cup final in Sydney on Sunday. AP

    SYDNEY — England went into the FIFA Women's World Cup final dreaming of global domination but the Lionessess' 1-0 loss to Spain — and the nature of it — was a reality check that will haunt them and Sarina Wiegman.

    England's Dutch coach admitted Spain was the better team in front of nearly 76,000 fans in Sydney to lift the Women's World Cup for the first time in its history on Sunday.

    Spain's deserved triumph over the European champion came even with La Roja missing several top players because of a mutiny in the camp that broke out 11 months ago.

    Fifteen players said in September last year that they no longer wished to represent their country because of numerous objections, chief among them the methods of coach Jorge Vilda.

    Three returned for the World Cup but the rebellion meant that Patri Guijarro, who struck twice in the final for Barcelona as it won the Champions League, and club teammates Mapi Leon and Sandra Panos were all missing.

    Vilda's critics would say that Spain won the title in Australia and New Zealand in spite of him, not because of him.

    Whatever the truth, Spain was full value for its victory, having taken the lead in the 29th minute through skipper Olga Carmona and La Roja also hit the outside of the post in the first half.

    The Spanish then had Jennifer Hermoso's penalty saved by goalkeeper Mary Earps in the second half and overall they carved out 14 attempts at goal to England's seven.

    Spain also had more of the ball, more completed passes and more corners.

    England did threaten at times, including hitting the bar in the first half, and can also point to missing captain Leah Williamson and star striker Beth Mead.

    Both missed the World Cup with knee injuries.

    But if anything, as England chased the goal it needed to keep alive its own dream of a first World Cup title, it was its opponent who looked more likely to score again.

    Wiegman, the outstanding female coach in women's soccer, has now suffered two defeats in the final in a row, having been in charge when her native Netherlands lost 2-0 to the United States four years ago.

    "I think against a team like this, when you let them get that sort of momentum, it's extremely difficult," said England's stand-in skipper Millie Bright.

    "They love to possess the ball so as soon as they get that momentum it is really hard to get out of that," added the defender, saying that England had not been at its best.

    'Turning point'

    Spain felt, with some justification, that it was also the better side when England squeezed through 2-1 in extra time in the quarterfinals of last year's European Championship.

    Its World Cup win also came with its best player, the reigning two-time Ballon d'Or winner Alexia Putellas, failing to fire at the tournament following a serious knee injury.

    Vilda underlined the depth of the quality at his disposal by dropping Putellas for the final and replacing her with her 19-year-old Barcelona teammate Salma Paralluelo.

    The former 400m hurdler proved to be a major threat all night to England and was named the tournament's best young player, with Spain's Aitana Bonmati named the best player at the competition.

    For the 42-year-old Vilda, who has been accused of being too strict with his players and not up to the job, this was a personal triumph.

    His credentials have long been questioned but Vilda, in charge of Spain since 2015, rotated his squad smartly through the tournament to keep them fresh and the opposition guessing.

    Vilda, who afterwards refused to say if he would stay on as coach, said that a 4-0 thumping at the hands of Japan in the group phase had been "a turning point".

    "It made us react, the team changed, the players improved their performance, their mentality was stronger," he said.

    "And it was one of the reasons that led us to the final and to win it."


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