SYDNEY (AP) — The rallying cry “It’s Coming Home” is one game away from reality and the end of England's 57-year drought in global soccer.
The World Cup trophy can return this Sunday to the birthplace of soccer for the first time since 1966. But if it happens, the journey back to England will be with the women's national team and not the men's.
The Lionesses have roared their way into their first Women’s World Cup title game, Sunday against Spain. It is the first all-European final since 2003, when Germany beat Sweden.
It has been a magical ride for both teams: England has been on top of the global game since winning the European Championship last summer, and Spain is in its first final less than a year since 15 players quit the team in protest.
But England was expected to be here, and all around the world, in pubs and at viewing parties, England supporters have been singing “It's Coming Home," the unintentional reminder that the soccer team hasn't won the World Cup since 1966. The men's team was the winner that year, and the Lionesses' appearance in Sunday's title game is England's first finale in the 57 years since.
England's return to prominence has been led by coach Sarina Wiegman, who was hired in late 2021 as the team's first non-British manager. Wiegman is now back in her second consecutive finale, and the only coach in the history of the tournament to take two nations to the final.
Wiegman was coach of the Netherlands when the Dutch lost 2-0 to the United States in 2019.
“Every step has been really, really hard. But again, we find a way,” she said. “And I think the opponents, the women’s game has grown so much that it’s really hard to get through. So I know it’s very, very special and that’s how it feels, too.”
Wiegman is after her second major trophy at the helm of England after guiding the Lionesses to their first European championship last year.
England is coming off a 3-1 victory over host Australia in the semifinal, the second consecutive game played without leading scorer Lauren James. She was suspended against Colombia and Australia for stomping on a Nigerian player following a tackle in the knockout round.
The 21-year-old has three goals and three assists in this World Cup and apologized to her teammates for the split-second play on field that forced England to push its way through the tournament without the Chelsea midfielder.
Spain, meanwhile, has defied expectations in the World Cup by reaching the final despite a near-mutiny by players last fall. Spain saw 15 players quit the national team citing mental health concerns. The players called on the federation to create a more professional environment.
Three of those players — midfielder Aitana Bonmati, forward Mariona Caldentey and defender Ona Batlle — reconciled with the federation and are back for the tournament. Jorge Vilda has thanked the federation for its support of the coach repeatedly during the tournament, and his players have said they are focused on the present.
Spain earned its spot in the final with a 2-1 victory over Sweden on Tuesday. Salma Paralluelo ended a scoreless stalemate with a goal in the 81st minute. After Sweden tied it, Olga Carmona scored the game winner in the final minute of regulation.
At the start of practice on Friday, 19-year-old Paralluelo was treated for what appeared to be a cramp in her left leg. Also absent was forward Alba Redondo, who was riding a stationary bike off to the side.
“We have all the squad ready for the final. We are going to be 100% ready, everyone is ready for the game. It’s nothing to worry about," Batlle said.
In addition to the breakthrough goal against Sweden, Paralleulo scored the extra-time winner over the Netherlands in the quarterfinals.
″I play against her every day in training. I knew what she was capable of before this tournament so seeing her do so well for Spain, I have seen that in training," said England's Lucy Bronze, a teammate of Paralleulo's on Spanish club Barcelona. Nine of the Spanish players are on Barcelona's squad, as well as two of the Lionesses.
Spain has not seen consistent play during the World Cup from two-time Ballon d'Or winner Alexia Putellas, who tore her ACL before the 2022 European Championship and is still returning to form. But Bonmati's playmaking has helped in her absence.
La Roja also have the opportunity to bring home a new trophy, after the men's team won the World Cup in 2010. Spain's women have never won a major tournament.
“Now we have the chance to do it,” Bonmati said. “It's magic. Unique.”
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup