England’s dream of lifting a first World Cup was dashed at the final hurdle after Olga Carmona’s first-half strike proved enough to secure Spain a 1-0 victory in Sydney.
Sarina Wiegman’s side still achieved a best-ever second-place finish, but that will be little consolation to the Lionesses, who came within inches of an opener when Lauren Hemp clipped the crossbar in the first half.
FIFA Best goalkeeper Mary Earps produced several fine saves to keep England in the contest, including the vital block to deny Jennifer Hermoso’s second-half spot kick as her determined team-mates tried to stage a comeback.
That never came, and while the Lionesses had their chances they ultimately could not find a way past speedy Spain, who survived 13 minutes of stoppage time to secure a deserved maiden world title.
Wiegman named an unchanged side from the one that beat Australia 3-1 to advance to this stage for the first time.
World Cup debutant Lauren James, who had scored three times and added the same number of assists in the group stage, was available for the England boss after serving a two-match ban and came on as a second-half substitute.
But the 21-year-old, who was sent off late in the second half of the Lionesses’ last-16 victory over Nigeria, warmed the bench and Ella Toone, who scored the opener against the Matildas, got the start.
Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, who has not looked fully fit this tournament, was among the substitutes for Spain while 19-year-old Salma Paralluelo got the nod from La Roja boss Jorge Vilda.
Spain looked the more threatening side in the opening exchanges and frequently encroaching on England’s final third, sending crosses across the face of goal but never posing any real danger to Earps.
Lauren Hemp, who was a standout in the semi-final, had a low, left-footed effort easily smothered by keeper Catalina Coll, who soon nullified the threat of Alex Greenwood’s corner when she leapt to pick it out of the air.
Hemp came agonisingly close with an effort that pinged over the crossbar before Earps’ alert save denied Alba Redondo from Carmona’s cross.
England won a free-kick just after the halfway point of the first period, but play was briefly paused after a male pitch invader ran on from the left corner near Spain’s goal and was promptly tackled and escorted off by security.
Less than 10 minutes later, Spain took a 1-0 lead when Mariona Caldentey slipped the ball to the onrushing Carmona, who finished past Earps with a left-footed effort into the bottom right corner.
La Roja won a free kick of their own from the left and Millie Bright was quick to clear Irene Paredes’ initial header, but the ball bounced back to the Barcelona centre-back, who fired her second effort just wide of the near post.
The Lionesses could not manufacture another clear chance before the break, but red-and-white wearing supporters inside Stadium Australia and across England breathed a collective sigh of relief when Paralluelo clipped the outside edge of Earps’ right post in one minute of added time.
England had 45 minutes left to stage a comeback, which Wiegman looked to ignite with the introduction of two substitutes, swapping Russo made for James, while Women’s Super League Golden Boot winner Rachel Daly made way for Chloe Kelly, who scored the dramatic extra-time winner in the Lionesses’ Euro 2022 triumph.
Earps, who until the final had conceded just three goals across England’s campaign, added another fine save to her CV when she dove to tip Caldentey’s low shot around her right post.
And the Manchester United net-minder would soon keep the Lionesses in the contest by saving Hermoso’s penalty.
Keira Walsh went in for a head-on challenge with Caldentey inside the penalty area and the ball hit the midfielder’s fingertips.
After a lengthy VAR check a penalty was awarded by American referee Tori Penso.
But Hermoso would not add another to her La Roja-leading tally after Earps anticipated her low effort to the bottom right and produced a fine save.
James had effort from six yards tipped over before a worrisome collision saw Greenwood take a knee to the head from Paralluelo, who was booked for the incident.
Greenwood was attended to by staff and eventually carried on with a bandage wrapped around her head and Bethany England was brought in as an 87th minute substitution for Toone.
Jess Carter’s excellently-timed tackle broke up a dangerous run of play as she caused Hermoso to fire wide, and swerved danger when Ona Batlle’s effort deflected off her to provoke Earps’ alert reply.
On came Putellas as the stadium announcer declared England would have 13 minutes to turn things around, as both Bronze and Carter did well to frustrate the ever-threatening Paralluelo, but time ran out on England’s bid.
Published: by Radio NewsHub