Women's World Cup update
PIEN HUANG, HOST:
The 64th and final game of the 2023 Women's World Cup soccer tournament is scheduled for tomorrow in Sydney, Australia, and the host country is dealing with some disappointment. Earlier today, Sweden and Australia battled for third place and Sweden emerged victorious. So now that we know who won the bronze, who's going to win silver and gold? It comes down to Spain and England, and whichever team wins will be a first-time world champion. Joining us now is reporter Sophie Downey, who's been traveling between New Zealand and Australia to cover the tournament for the past month. Welcome, Sophie.
SOPHIE DOWNEY: Hi. Thank you for having me on.
HUANG: So, Sophie, how would you characterize this final match between Spain and England? Is there a clear favorite to win?
DOWNEY: I wouldn't say there's a clear favorite. I think both sides had their weaknesses and both their strengths, obviously. I think probably, mentality wise, England edge it because they were in the final last summer as well in the European Championships back in England, and they won that final. So I think mentally, they've already been in a big showpiece environment, so that might just give them a little something. But I think it's going to be a very, very interesting and intriguing matchup between the two.
HUANG: Yeah. There's, you know, there are definitely strong players on both sides. So who are the key players to watch for tomorrow for both Spain and England?
DOWNEY: So if you're looking at England, probably the front two, I think is Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo. They've found a partnership this tournament that they probably didn't know existed before beforehand. So it's really come to life, and they play off each other really nicely in that front two. I guess the question for England is if Lauren James comes back into the fold. She took the tournament by storm in the first two games but then got sent off. So hasn't played for a couple of games, but she's now available for selection, so that's going to be a big one for Sarina Wiegman to decide.
On the side of Spain, you've obviously got, you know, like, Alexia Putellas, who is the two times Ballon d'Or winner. She's been struggling to come back from an ACL injury, so she's sort of played like limited minutes this tournament. And then they've got a really interesting young kid, 19-year-old Salma Paraluello, and she has been super exciting. She scored the winner against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals, and then she scored again against Sweden in the semifinals. So she's one to watch.
HUANG: Great. I want to come back to the third-place match that took place earlier. I'm sure it was a letdown for Australia's fans, even though they still made it pretty far in the tournament. So what's the mood been like today?
DOWNEY: I was in the fan park in Sydney watching the game, and they were incredibly buoyant beforehand and maybe a little bit disappointed afterwards.
DOWNEY: I think it was just one game too far for them. You know, all of that excitement of the semi-final just a few days ago against England in front of 75,000 in a stadium in Australia has a lot of emotions. And I think they just look tired, if you know what I mean, that there's been a long tournament. But I think if you step away from the result maybe and look at what that team has achieved in Australia over the last month, it's been pretty indescribable, you know, the effect that it has had on this country and the way that the nation has got behind the football and kind of embraced the team as well. You know, there's literally been queues and queues of people outside Nike stores and outside the fan zones to try and get in to watch them play. And that's sort of unprecedented in Australia.
HUANG: So just in a minute, I want to ask. I know that there's been several surprises in this tournament, you know, including an unexpected early exit for the U.S. So what are your key takeaways from this year's World Cup?
DOWNEY: I think women's football is closer than it has ever been before. You know, everyone is competitive. Everyone is catching up, as it were, with the U.S. USA set the standard for so long, and you're now starting to see the fruits of, like, the investment of the European nations, of other nations as well. We've had some - well, my biggest surprise, I think, is I thought the expansion to 32 teams was maybe a little bit from 24, was maybe a little bit too soon. But I'm so glad I was proved wrong because they've added - the new teams have all added something to the tournament, you know, the likes of Ireland, Haiti, all of those. They've all come to compete. And there's been no seriously big scores. It's all been super competitive.
HUANG: All right. We're going to have to leave it there. But thank you so much for joining us. That's reporter Sophie Downey in Australia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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