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'Work of art' sends Spain into first World Cup final

'Work of art' sends Spain into first World Cup final
August 15, 2023 Web Desk

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AFP) - Defender Olga Carmona conjured up "a work of art" to send Spain into their first Women's World Cup final in history on Tuesday and a clash with Australia or England.

The skipper capped a frenetic ending to the semi-final at Eden Park in Auckland with a rocket to give Spain a thrilling 2-1 victory over Sweden. Proceedings seemed to be meandering towards extra time before suddenly bursting to life when substitute Salma Paralluelo put Spain ahead with nine minutes left.

Rebecka Blomqvist equalised in the 88th minute only for full-back Carmona to score with a superb shot in off the underside of the crossbar from the edge of the box 60 seconds later. "We knew it would be a really demanding game mentally," Spain coach Jorge Vilda said.

"But they showed they were prepared because in the last minute Olga appeared to produce the work of art she did to take us through." Spain's place in Sunday's final in Sydney is a remarkable journey for a nation who had never previously gone beyond the last 16 at a Women's World Cup. And for Vilda it is vindication.

Fifteen Spanish players told their federation last September that they no longer wished to be considered for selection, mainly out of unhappiness with Vilda and his methods. Only three of them returned for this World Cup but Spain have barely noticed their absence.

Vilda said the turmoil that had threatened to torpedo Spain's Women's World Cup before it had even begun "made all of us stronger". "Now we can file it away and put it behind us and think about the future, and think that we deserve to be where we are," he said. While Spain's 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 that 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. "Everyone just feels sadness and huge disappointment," said Gerhardsson.

Kerr to start? 

Australia coach Tony Gustavsson faces a tough decision on whether to play skipper Sam Kerr from kick-off against England on Wednesday in  the second semi-final in Sydney. The striker is yet to start a match at the World Cup following a calf injury.

When the Chelsea star came off the bench against France in their dramatic 7-6 win on penalties in the last eight, she had an immediate impact for the co-hosts. "She pushed through more minutes than we hoped for," Gustavsson said.

"The way she pushed through was fantastic and impressive, both the mental and physical aspect. "She recovered well and trained today, so she's available. "We will be meeting tonight to see again the best starting 11 and the best finishing 11. There will be some tough decisions."

More than 75,000 are expected to be at Stadium Australia, with most roaring on the home side, but England skipper Millie Bright says they will not be intimidated. The European champions are into the semi-finals for a third time in a row but have never got any farther.

"We are just super-excited to play in front of a really intense full stadium. That's what we want, that's what we expect now," the 29-year-old defender said. "At these big tournaments, especially a semi-final, we thrive in these moments. We know as an England team there's always pressure and it's something we embrace and deal with.

"I think we've experienced moments like this, a tense environment, big stadiums, big crowds, and we do thrive in those moments, it gives us energy," she added.