Spanish women’s national football team secured their first World Cup title by defeating England 1-0 on Sunday.




Spanish women’s national football team

As the thermometer crept towards a high of 38 degrees Celsius, previously quiet streets began filling with red and yellow jerseys.

Fans adorned in the national team’s colors made their way to the indoor WiZink Arena for the World Cup final in the heart of Madrid. All 7,000 seats available for Sunday’s match were sold out within half an hour.

Those waiting outside sought refuge in whatever shade was available when the doors opened an hour before Spain faced England at noon local time.

“This is a big opportunity to make the team famous in Spain,” said former third-division footballer Sonia Trillo, 24.

“More people are supporting the team thanks to this competition. We have to take advantage of this opportunity and win the match.”

The significance of this opportunity reveals much about the ongoing struggles of women’s football. Even for World Cup finalists.

Inside the arena, supporters watched the game unfold on giant cubes suspended above them.

It goes without saying that Olga Carmona’s goal in the 29th minute triggered a lively celebration, that groans greeted Jenni Hermoso’s missed penalty, or that joy erupted when the final whistle blew.

But this is more than just the result of a football game in a country where women’s play has struggled to be taken seriously.

“People used to see women as lower than men,” said Lucia Morales, a semi-professional footballer, on a terrace after the match.

“Now we’ve shown that we are equal and can win the World Cup too.”

The Spanish players managed to do it despite losing some of their best players in disputes over the lack of resources provided to the team and rumors of controlling behavior by the coaching staff.

In September of last year, 15 players requested not to be selected again. Eight of them have returned, and three are in the World Cup squad.

Coach Jorge Vilda may have led them to victory, but celebrations with his players have been awkward at best.

Back in Madrid, the celebrations were also muted even though the World Cup fell at an unfortunate time for spectators in the capital, many of whom had escaped the August heat for their annual pilgrimage to the beach.

The final match also took place at an inconvenient time. When Real Madrid wins a major match or Spain wins the World Cup or European Championship for men, Plaza de Cibeles is filled with fans jumping into the fountain.

But this usually happens in the evening, in May or June, not in the middle of the Spanish summer holiday and at a time when those still in Madrid are advised to stay indoors, away from the heat.

Nevertheless, some bars, like the one visited by Lucia Morales, were still full for hours after the final whistle.

Many men wore national jerseys, but it was the girls and women who led the singing and dancing.

“It’s a change to celebrate with other girls,” said Morales, 27. “And when the team returns with the trophy, we want to see kids there; this is something we’ve never seen in women’s football.”

Many thousands of people are expected to turn out when the victorious Spanish team returns to Madrid on Monday night.

The women celebrating here also hope the new generation will have better opportunities than they did.

Trillo had to quit playing for her team to start work as a physiotherapist. In contrast, male third-division players can make a decent living.

The best players play in England or for European champions Barcelona, which won 62 straight games until May this year. This may be good for them but bad for the competitiveness of the league.

Hope may be found in the example of Sunday’s opponents – England.

Their European Championship victory last year marked an upturn in the women’s game, with the English FA introducing a new pathway for girls to reach the top.

The gap between men’s and women’s football in England remains wide. But the success of the national team has brought exposure and progress.

By the time the next World Cup arrives, Spanish women may have found that La Roja is also beginning to do the same for them.

And perhaps more fans will take to the streets after the match, only this time, at night.

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