Glory also passes through the benches

395 days later the paths of Jorge Vilda and Sarina Wiegman cross again.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
19 August 2023 Saturday 11:15
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Glory also passes through the benches

395 days later the paths of Jorge Vilda and Sarina Wiegman cross again. England and Spain have faced each other sixteen times – the team that the red has faced the most times – but this will undoubtedly be the most special. An unprecedented final for two nations that had never before reached this far in a World Cup. The perfect setting for revenge. On July 21, 2022, England beat Spain in the quarter-finals of the European Championship, which was played on English soil, but the result was much more than a victory for the Lyonesses. That match had disastrous consequences for Spain, plunging it into chaos with a fierce battle between the players and the Federation. England, on the other hand, would end up becoming European champions.

That day, Sarina Wiegman overtook Jorge Vilda on the bench. Spain was winning thanks to a goal from Esther and was playing its best match of the tournament, but the Spanish coach didn't get it right with the changes, decided to take Tere Abelleira off and weakened the center of the field. Wiegman, on the other hand, went for the game with offensive changes. Toone forced extra time and Stanway completed the comeback. The rest is history. "We were ahead last year, but the result is what counts", resigned Vilda.

A year has passed since then. A year in which English football has not stopped growing, strengthened by that European Cup. A year in which Spain experienced one of its most bitter crises. Fifteen of their best players left the national team and only three of them are in Sydney today. Things have improved: now they have a nutritionist, a larger coaching staff, a conciliation policy that has allowed the players to travel with their children and accompanied by family members... But there are still unhealed wounds and Jorge Vilda continues tensing up every time a journalist asks him about 3 p.m. A coach who is constantly questioned which contrasts with the popular motto "In Sarina we trust" (we trust Sarina) that the English fans have coined to refer to their coach. A blind faith that his players also profess. "She's great, she doesn't get enough recognition, she's very honest and her knowledge of football and her coaching staff is incredible, she's honest and frank, and that's something I respect a lot as a player..." are some of the laudatory words of the footballers in charge. Even Jorge Vilda himself surrenders to him: "He has shown his work with results. What he has achieved is not at all easy. It's a matter of preparation, talent and a good coaching staff, as well as good players."

And in fact, the resume of the Dutch coach is within the reach of very few. He will play in his fourth consecutive final after being crowned European champion with the Netherlands (2017), finishing as a finalist with Oranje in the last World Cup (2019) and winning the European Championship with England a year ago. Arguments to spare for having attracted the attention of a selection as powerful as that of the United States, although the English Federation has no intention of letting it escape: "We will reject any offer they make us. It is not a matter of money, we are very happy with her", they say.

If Spain won today, it would be the first national team to win a World Cup with two different teams. In addition, in the 30 World Cups that have been contested - 22 for men and 8 for women - a foreign coach has never managed to become champion. "Am I in a fairy tale?", he asked himself after qualifying for the final. Of the twelve women who started the World Cup from the bench, only she has made it this far, something she knows is important for the next generations: "It helps to see women on stage, on and off the field, because what you can see is what you can be". Both Vilda and Wiegman have something in common: they have been able to adapt. England have not dazzled with their football, but they have shown that they are a chameleon team, capable of winning with and without the ball, and reaching the final without three of their stars – Leah Williamson, Beth Mead and Fran Kirby – .

Spain looked like they were sinking when they met their first team rival in the group stage, but they managed to bounce back from the defeat against Japan and have continued to grow ever since. "The team has been evolving, it has continued to grow, mentally it has taken a step further", explains Vilda,

Both clearly have a good part of the starting line-up that will help them win their first World Cup, although there are doubts on both sides. Lauren James, England's top scorer with three goals, has already served her two-match suspension for stepping on Nigeria's Alozie in the last eight and is available, but Ella Toone has been strong in the eleven. In Spain, Oihane Hernández has also served his suspension for accumulating cards, but Olga Carmona, author of the goal that sent the Reds to the final, has more options to repeat the title. It will also be necessary to see what happens with Alexia Putellas and if he decides to repeat with Salma Paralluelo as a shocker in the second half or if he starts. "There will be a tactical, technical, competitive battle", predicts Jorge Vilda. The show is served.