Spain will play for its first Women’s World Cup championship after Olga Carmona’s goal in the 89th minute lifted La Roja to a 2-1 victory over Sweden in the Tuesday semifinal.
Spain, which overcame last year’s near mutiny by its players against coach Jorge Vilda, will play the winner of tournament co-host Australia and England on Sunday in the final in Sydney.
The controversy surrounding Spain dates to last September, when 15 players signed a letter complaining about Vilda and the conditions for the the national team. Three of those players are on this World Cup team, and Vilda a day before the game against Sweden praised the Spanish federation for its support.
Now, La Roja has a chance to become a first-time World Cup champion.
Ranked sixth in the world by FIFA, Spain’s defeat of third-ranked Sweden makes it the second highest-ranked team remaining in the tournament behind only England. The Lionesses are ranked fourth in the world.
“This is a historic day,” said Vilda. “We’re in the final, that’s what we wanted.”
Sweden has now lost in four of five semifinals and will play try to finish third for a fourth time.
“I have to watch the game, I really do, before I can make any assessments,” said Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson. “Right now I am full of emotions. It is is the third loss in the semifinals. I think everyone just feels sadness and huge disappointment.”
Carmona’s goal capped a flurry of late scoring that saw Sweden tie the game, then Spain win it 90 seconds later on the surprise score.
Salma Paralluelo, the 19-year-old super-sub who also scored the game-winner in Spain’s 2-1 extra-time quarterfinals victory over the Netherlands, scored in the 81st minute to break a scoreless game. She gestured for the crowd to cheer, and the crowd thought it was celebrating Spain’s decider.
But the celebration was brief. Rebecca Blomqvist tied it for Sweden in the 88th.
Then, just 90 seconds later, Carmona beat Sweden goalkeeper Zecira Musovic with the game-winner.
“It was an enormous feeling that we scored and and maybe we would go to extra time,” Gerhardsson said. “And just over a minute later, it’s turned again. And that can happen.”
Paralluelo said it was equally difficult for Spain to bounce back after the Sweden equalizer.
“It was a very tough game. It could’ve been difficult to recover from their goal, but we’ve shown that his team can deal with everything.” said Paralluelo. “We deserved this. We took this little step, and now we need that final push.”
The Swedes have never won a World Cup. They were the 2003 runner-up and have finished third three times. Sweden won silver medals at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago, and at the 2016 Games in Brazil.
Spain is playing in only its third overall World Cup. Four years ago, La Roja advanced to the knockout round but lost to eventual champions the United States.
“Now it’s the final. I think we have to do what we’ve done in every match,” said Paralluelo. “We’ve overcome every challenge and now we face the ultimate challenge, the big one”
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The Swedes swept their opponents in the group stage before knocking out two-time reigning champion the United States on a penalty shootout after a scoreless draw.
Sweden then got by previously unbeaten Japan 2-1 in the quarterfinals.
Spain fell to second in its group behind a blowout loss to Japan, but rallied to beat Switzerland 5-1 and the Netherlands 2-1 to reach the semifinals. It was La Roja’s first appearance in a major semifinal since the 1997 European Championships.
Spain’s two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas made her third start of the World Cup. Putellas ruptured her ACL last summer and has been working her way back to full fitness. She came off the bench in the team’s last two matches.
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Putellas, who replaced Esther Gonzalez in the starting 11, was subbed off in the 57th minute for teenage Paralluelo, who has now scored in two straight games.
Spain dominated possession and had the better chances in the first half. Carmona’s blast from the top of the box was a low shot went just wide. Sweden’s defense, which had allowed just two goals in the tournament, held.
Putellas nutmegged Filippa Angeldal before delivering a cross in the 35th minute but Magdalena Eriksson was there to clear it away.
Spain goalkeeper Cata Coll dove to save Fridolina Rolfo’s shot late in the half, then punched the ball away on a corner kick to keep the game scoreless at the half.
Sweden had energy to start the second half but Spain still had chances. Paralleulo’s header in the 63rd minute sailed over the goal.
Alba Redondo was on the ground in front of the goal but got a foot on the ball and appeared to score in the 71st minute, but she was just wide and the ball was caught up in the side netting.
There were a few tense moments when Paralluelo’s goal was checked by video review, but the goal was awarded.
There were 43,217 fans on hand for the match at Auckland’s Eden Park.
© 2023 The Canadian Press
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