Women's World Cup 2023: Lionesses fall at the final hurdle following dramatic tournament

After a marauding cup run the Lionesses finally met their match against an electric Spain side.

Mitchell Hall
11th September 2023
Image by @lauren__hemp on X
It was a run brimming with composure, heart, and headlines as England attempted to build upon their Euros success, and whilst they fell short of the trophy, the feelings of optimism surrounding this squad have only grown as they passed test after test.

The group stage didn’t open in a spectacular manner for the Lionesses, but two composed and efficient 1-0 victories against Haiti and Denmark set the tone for a side that could grind out the results when it mattered. Perhaps then it was the comfort of the 6 points already banked that unleashed the squad when they faced China in the final match of the group. Already qualified the team shed their somewhat mechanical efficiency in favour of a 6-1 drubbing helmed by 21 year old Chelsea forward Lauren James, contributing two goals and three assists to add to her match winning goal against Denmark and cementing herself as the player to watch this tournament. Russo, Hemp, Kelly and Daly all got their share of the spoils in the result, leaving the team full of well earned confidence heading into the knockout stages against Nigeria.

Despite now being probably the first name on the teamsheet, James would take the decision away from Sarina Wiegman, grabbing herself a two match ban for a bizarre stamp on Nigeria’s Michelle Alozie. The lapse in judgement was indicative of the war of attrition that the game had become, neither side being able to break the deadlock in normal or extra time. England held their cool in the shootout to continue through to the quarter finals against Colombia. Santos rocked England at the end of the first half with a back post finish, but whatever intense half-time team talk Wiegman was readying to push her side back into the game, it would never see the light of day, Hemp pouncing on a loose ball in the box to equalise in the 6th minute of injury time.  Georgia Stanway and Alessia Russo combined smartly in the second half to give the Lionesses a lead that would prove enough to put them in the Semis.

It was a wonderful moment for the home fans, but Lauren Hemp had no interest in fairy tales

The Australian hosts would prove to be the most energetic contest yet, Toone latching on to a ball in the box after some improvisation from Hemp and thundering a shot into the very top corner. England had the momentum but any team facing the quality of Sam Kerr have to always be on their toes, a lesson learned the hard way as Kerr picked up a pass in her own half, charged up the field and rifled a shot over Mary Earps from 30 yards. It was a wonderful moment for the home fans, but Lauren Hemp had no interest in fairy tales, chasing down a ball over the top before finishing into the far corner. She soon had another chance to show her class, carving a pass through the Aussie defence to Russo who made no mistake to send England to the final.

With James now free from her suspension Wiegman had a decision to make, but eventually omitted her from the lineup. England struggled from the start to deal with Spain’s overlapping runs around the box, Bonmati regularly picking the ball up deep, scything through England’s midfield before releasing Ona Batlle down the right side. It was a similar run on the other side that gave Olga Carmona a chance in front of goal, defender Lucy Bronze nowhere to be seen after an ill-advised run across the field. It was a chance that Carmona would not pass up, drilling low across goal and past Earps. Spain's intricate passing moves proved too much for England’s extra mechanical build up, having chance after chance to get their shots off. This pressure culminated in a second half penalty to kill the game off for Spain, which Jenni Hermoso stepped up to take. It was a low right effort, but Earps guessed correctly and even managed to hold on to the ball, preventing a follow up. Earps’ passionate reaction represented the kind of campaign it had been for the Lionesses, but they ultimately couldn’t find a way through and fell to a deserving Spanish side.

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