Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Carmona’s late stunner takes Spain into maiden Women’s World Cup final

Women's World Cup final
Spain's players celebrate their win in the Australia and New Zealand 2023 Women's World Cup semi-final soccer match between Spain and Sweden at Eden Park in Auckland on Aug. 15, 2023. (AFP/Saeed Khan)

Auckland (New Zealand), August 15: Spain secured a 2-1 victory over Sweden through Olga Carmona’s remarkable late goal in a captivating match on Tuesday, propelling them to their first Women’s World Cup final.
The thrilling triumph at Eden Park now paves the way for an eagerly anticipated face-off in Sydney on Sunday, where Spain will lock horns with either Australia or England. The latter pair is set to clash in the other semi-final on Wednesday.
The Auckland semi-final appeared to be edging towards extra time before erupting into action in the final minutes. Substituting Salma Paralluelo found the net, giving Spain the lead with just nine minutes remaining.
However, Sweden swiftly responded as Rebecka Blomqvist leveled the score in the 88th minute. Just as the match seemed destined for added time, Spain’s captain and full-back, Olga Carmona, stole the spotlight.
She unleashed a spectacular shot from the edge of the penalty area that found its way into the net off the underside of the crossbar, securing Spain’s victory and a historic spot in the Women’s World Cup final.
It has been a remarkable run for a nation who had never previously gone beyond the last 16 at a Women’s World Cup, and for a team who had been in disarray in the months leading up to the tournament.
Fifteen Spanish players told their federation last September that they no longer wished to be considered for selection, principally out of unhappiness with coach Jorge Vilda, and only three of them returned for this World Cup run.
While their dream of World Cup glory remains alive, Sweden are left with a familiar feeling after going so far at another major tournament before falling short.
This is the third time in four World Cups in which they have reached the semi-finals, only to lose on each occasion.
Peter Gerhardsson’s side also lost in the last four at the European Championship last year, having been beaten in the final of the Tokyo Olympics on penalties against Canada in 2021.
Vilda decided against handing a start to Paralluelo, after she came off the bench to score the winner in the quarter-final against the Netherlands.
Instead he recalled Alexia Putellas and the reigning Ballon d’Or winner started for the first time since Spain were walloped 4-0 by Japan in the group phase.
The plan was clearly to dominate possession and make a more physically imposing Sweden do the chasing.
Spain had far more of the ball in the first half yet neither Putellas nor Aitana Bonmati were allowed the time and space to really influence the game.
The closest they came to breaking the deadlock was from long range, when Jennifer Hermoso laid the ball back to Carmona, whose shot whistled wide.
Sweden had taken the game to Japan in an impressive 2-1 win in the quarter-finals but they offered next to nothing here until suddenly they almost struck three minutes before half-time.
Nathalie Bjorn sent a hanging cross from the right to the back post for Fridolina Rolfo — facing seven of her Barcelona club colleagues in the Spain starting line-up — but her side-foot volley was saved by Cata Coll.
Vilda’s plan was clearly to save the pacy Paralluelo for when the Swedish defence was beginning to tire, and it was just before the hour mark that he turned to the former athlete.
Paralluelo took the place of Putellas, who has still not completed 90 minutes at this World Cup as she continues to recover full fitness following a serious knee injury.
The substitute’s persistence almost brought the opener for Spain with 20 minutes left as she stretched to keep the ball in play following a cross by Hermoso, but Alba Redondo turned her cutback wide.
Paralluelo then struck with nine minutes of normal time remaining, showing a killer instinct to lash a shot low into the corner.
But Sweden did not give up, drawing level in the 88th minute thanks to two substitutes of their own.
Lina Hurtig had only just come on when she nodded down a cross for Blomqvist to fire home, raising the spectre of extra time once again.
But Carmona, the Real Madrid left-back, had other ideas as she clinched victory for Spain in style.
Women’s World Cup: Australia’s quarter-final hero Mackenzie Arnold ready to step up again against England
Mackenzie Arnold has become one of Australia’s favourite sportspeople since her fearless display at the weekend, but she knows her fame will be fleeting if she is not at the top of her game in Wednesday’s Women’s World Cup semi-final against England.
Arnold was Player of the Match in Australia’s quarter-final against France on Saturday, making a string of saves late in the game and stopping three penalties in a shootout victory that captured the hearts of the host nation.
“I guess the last couple of days have been a pretty big whirlwind for me,” she told on Tuesday.
The 29-year-old custodian continued, “Obviously I have not received attention like that (before), but at the same time I just tend to block it out because I know if I play like s**t tomorrow, it could be a whole different attention on me.”
Arnold also took a penalty in the shootout, pinging Australia’s fifth attempt against the post when successfully converting it would have sent them into the semi-finals without the need for sudden death.
Coach Tony Gustavsson said that he had selected Arnold for the role because of her technical ability from the spot and her mental strength, which she amply illustrated by bouncing back from the miss to win the day.
Arnold, who has only recently taken over as first-choice keeper for the Matildas, insisted that she, if called upon, would step up and take another spot-kick on Wednesday.
The goalkeeper added, “I am ready if I have to take one tomorrow, hopefully I don’t.
“But, yeah, the penalty order was called upon with me in the fifth in the line, and I wanted to try and do my job for the team.
“Unfortunately, in that specific incident I didn’t, but I always want to do my job for the team. So if has to happen again, yes I will be ready.”
(ToI With AFP Inputs/Reuters)