Spain will play in the 2023 Women’s World Cup final after they beat Sweden 2-1 in the first semi-final.
In the final, they will face one of Australia orEngland, with that semi-final taking place on Wednesday morning CEST.
Jorge Vilda opted to start with the old guard – namely Irene Paredes, Jennifer Hermoso and Alexia Putellas.
The idea, undoubtedly, was to keep hold of the ball for as long as possible, while giving up a certain verticality and a reference up front to fix the powerful Swedish centre-backs.
Maturity and courage
As expected, the game was compressed for most of the time around the centre circle, where the overload of players prevented any fluid attack.
Spain had the ball, but Sweden waited with two lines of four close together to prevent any transition.
Olga Carmona was the protagonist in the first dangerous moves. First with a cross that Alba Redondo crossed to the far post without finding a team-mate to finish, and then with a shot from the edge of the area that went just wide of the post.
Sweden were limited to looking for counter-attacks after pressure and, apart from the odd long ball, they did not trouble Catalina Coll, who once again showed her cool head and sure-footedness.
Spain were a mature team on the pitch, knowing how to read the game and deal with the referee’s permissiveness, which was often excessive.
The full-backs were more than adequate both defensively and offensively, but the wingers were too disconnected from the inside players, which limited Spain’s chances to timid shots from outside the box.
The first half ended with just one shot on target, a volley from Fridolina Rolfo from Bjorn’s cross that Coll saved well.
The high pressing of the Swedes at the start of the second half did a lot of damage to a Spain side who found themselves without the ball and without ideas.
Vilda reacted by moving the slate, removing Putellas and introducing Salma Paralluelo as a reference up front.
Muscle and speed to face up to the size and solidity of the Swedish defence
The winger had one opening just after coming on and did her job of opening up the field and gaining yards. Mariona Caldenteytried her hand at a set piece with a free kick from the edge of the area, but not even in this way could Zecira Musovic be tested by the good work of the defence.
A heart-stopping finish
With 20 minutes to go, Redondo lifted the crowd off their seats when Paralluelo’s cross was headed into the side netting.
Half the stadium saw it as having gone in. The ball was in both penalty areas a lot once fatigue had opened up the game, but it was drifting from one side to the other without finding a finisher.
Caldentey, Redondo, Stina Blackstenius and Rolfo all came close to finding an opener.
Finally, the breakthrough came. It was Hermoso who put it in and Paralluelo, taking advantage of a dead ball inside the area, fired in. The VAR reviewed the goal, but could only confirm that the dream was ten minutes away from becoming reality.
History seemed to repeat itself with Rebecka Blomqvist’s goal three minutes from time from Lina Hurtig’s assist, but when a team believes, and this Spain side have already convinced themselves that they can do anything, anything is possible.