Division and disunity could have scuppered Spain’s chances at the Women’s World Cup.
Instead, La Roja have triumphed in the tournament for the first time. It’s been an unlikely path to glory.
In Sydney on Sunday, attacking left-back Olga Carmona scored the only goal of the game just before the half-hour mark. It proved enough to secure a deserved win over an England side that disappointed hugely on their big night.
Irene Paredes, whose inclusion in the Spain squad was uncertain right up until April, was impressive in central defence on the occasion of her 97th international cap.
The Barcelona player was an ever-present in the side throughout their World Cup adventure, and was supported in person Down Under by wife Lucia Ybarra - who has previously represented Spain in field hockey - and their two-year-old son, Mateo.
The couple spoke to FIFA after the quarterfinal victory over the Netherlands, and discussed how being together as a family unit was even more important to them than usual at this time.
Paredes’ father passed away just one week before the start of Spain’s pre-World Cup training camp.
At the conclusion of that game against the Dutch in Wellington, she was pictured crying in the tunnel, with Ybarra there to comfort her.
“She’s been through a tough personal situation,” explained Ybarra of her wife, “and it’s a long time to be away.
“It’s become even more crucial that Mateo and I are here supporting Irene like we always do.”
Paredes added: “Knowing your loved ones are OK has an impact on your play. Having them here with me is hugely beneficial, and I hope it shows on the pitch.”
It’s been some journey for @SeFutbolFem— FIFA (@FIFAcom) August 15, 2023
Ahead of their first-ever @FIFAWWC semi-final, Irene Paredes explains how off-pitch developments and support have aided the team’s on-field progress in recent years:
With Carmona given license to get forward, it was crucial that Paredes’ concentration levels were high against England in order to contain the skilful Alessia Russo.
She accomplished that task and put in a commanding aerial presence too.
Paredes’ other Spain teammates who are publicly out all featured in the final as well.
Forward Alba Redondo played for an hour, lynchpin midfielder Teresa Abelleira completed the full game, while defender Ivana Andres came on as a substitute in the second half.
Abelleira tweeted later: “What craziness is this?! We are champions of the world!”
QUÉ LOCURA ES ESTA ???!!!— Teresa Abelleira (@teresabelleira) August 20, 2023
SOMOS CAMPEONAS DEL MUNDO !!!❤️❤️❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/9S4QifC5Z8
For England, semifinal star Lauren Hemp hit the crossbar early on in the match but that was really as good as it got for a team that had come from behind to beat Spain on their way to being crowned European champions last summer.
Like Hemp, Jess Carter also played the full match but Rachel Daly was withdrawn at half-time and Bethany England came off the bench for the closing stages. This quartet were proudly representing Team LGBTQ as well as an expectant nation glued to TV screens back home.
Against Australia last time out, the Lionesses had roared back after a rocky spell, despite vociferous home support.
But Spain’s superior possession stats and quicker tempo - they made over 510 passes compared to their opponents’ 385 - gave them the edge over the high press throughout this encounter.
They could even afford to squander a penalty, Jenni Hermoso denied by the excellent Mary Earps.
So it was Spain who celebrated at the end of a World Cup that has pushed the women’s game forward once again while also highlighting the inequalities that persist for so many players.
Such injustices will continue to afflict those from smaller nations more acutely but the champions’ camp was far from a happy one either.
Some of Spain’ stars noticeably gave coach Jorge Vilda the cold-shoulder treatment during this World Cup. Even in Sunday’s post-match party on the pitch, there were times when Vilda’s players seemed to be celebrating around him, not with him.
The dynamic between team, staff and federation is difficult to discern but staying true to tiki-taka and steering through choppy off-field waters secured them the trophy in the end.
It’s a tale of rebellion, pushing back against the patriarchy, and a crowning conquest. Ultimately, the history books will record it as Spanish gold.