England's Lionesses kick off their historic World Cup final

Lionesses begin their bid for World Cup glory: England’s historic clash against Spain kicks off with an expectant nation holding their breath as millions pack out pubs and bars across the nation in hope of roaring them to victory

  • England are taking on Spain today in Sydney for the Women’s World Cup Final

The Lionesses have kicked off their historic World Cup final against Spain – England’s first since the famous triumph of 1966.

Millions of fans across the country are tuning in for the match, with many taking advantage of a last-minute relaxation of licensing laws to allow pubs to serve punters alcohol in time for the 11am kick off.

A stirring rendition of the national anthem was belted out by the players and supporters watching on both Down Under and back in Britain.

The build-up to the match was overshadowed somewhat by a sexism row, particularly over the absence of Prince William and Rishi Sunak, who many claimed would have been in the stands were it the men’s team competing in the final.

Confirmation from ministers that there would be no bank holiday should the Lionesses triumph, as well as the lack of preparation in getting venues ready for the early start, further added fuel to the fire.

On the pitch, boss Sarina Wiegman has named an unchanged XI from the team that beat Australia 3-1 in the semi-final, with Lauren James back among the substitutes following her suspension.

England line up for the national anthem prior to the FIFA Women’s World Cup final

England fans ahead of a screening of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 final between Spain and England at BOXPARK Croydon

Millions of fans are tuning in across the country, including a crowd at Croydon’s Boxpark

Players stand for the national anthems ahead of the Australia and New Zealand 2023 Women’s World Cup final football match

Football fans at Victoria Park ahead of the FIFA Women’s World Cup final between England and Spain

England fans raise their arms in the air at Boxpark in Croydon during the World Cup final against Spain

England’s Esme Morgan warms up ahead of the World Cup final against Spain in Sydney

England and Spain players take the field ahead of the World Cup final in Australia

England fans wait for kick-off at a screening of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 final between England and Spain at North Walsham Town FC’s clubhouse in Norfolk

Lauren James of England warms up prior to the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Final match between Spain and England

Rachel Daly of England warms up prior to the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Final match between Spain and England

Let the party begin! Hundreds of fans have packed into fan zones across the UK to watch the Women’s World Cup final. Pictured are supporters at the Boxpark Croydon on Sunday 

‘Come on England!’ – these young football fans in Sydney were showing their patriotism, sporting England face paint and the English flag as they hope to watch the Lionesses against Spain

And in Croydon, England fans are sinking the pints – with these two supporters opting to buy in bulk as they watch the match from the Boxpark fan zone

Prior to kick off, there appeared to be little sign of nerves as the players, all dressed in light blue tracksuits, bounced into the 83,500-seater Stadium Australia, some even dancing their way into the changing rooms.

They were then seen checking the conditions on the playing surface and enjoying a joke with their Spanish opponents.

Supporters young and old had earlier gathered outside the Intercontinental hotel in Sydney to catch a glimpse of their heroes, and cheered as they stepped out to board a maroon-coloured bus, branded with ‘The Final’ in gold lettering.

The bus was given a police escort for its journey through the city, arriving at the stadium – where Jonny Wilkinson inspired the England rugby team to World Cup victory in 2003 – at around 9.30am.

Earlier, the Lionesses were seen enjoying a walkabout together in the Sydney sunshine. 

Stars including Alessia Russo, Ella Toone and Lauren James – back amongst the squad following her suspension for a red card against Nigeria – looked relaxed as they strolled around the city. 

The players were pictured holding bottles of water and squash to stay hydrated in the hot weather. 

The Lionesses’ opponents, La Roja, were also on a walkabout earlier in the day, and were seen posing with Spanish fans as they made their own final preparations ahead of the game. 

Before the game, a Government minister said that the Prime Minister will be ‘glued to the television’.

Asked on Times Radio whether Mr Sunak should have travelled to Sydney, Australia, to watch England take on Spain, schools minister Nick Gibb said: ‘The Foreign Secretary has gone, the Culture Secretary has gone.

‘I’m sure he will be glued to the television, as we all are.

‘This is a very exciting time for our country and we are all rooting for the Lionesses to win the World Cup, although we shouldn’t jinx it by saying too much.

‘But we all are very excited. And it is exciting for young people as well.

‘The Euros had a galvanising effect I think on sport in schools in this country.’

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said a bank holiday in the event of England winning the World Cup is not being considered.

Speaking  in Sydney this morning, she said: ‘We will definitely be celebrating the victory of the Lionesses, whether they win in the final or not, they’ve done a tremendous, tremendous amount of work to get to this stage, and we will be marking it definitely in some way.

‘A bank holiday isn’t something that we’re considering at the moment.’

England’s Lionesses were all smiles as they arrived at Stadium Australia this morning to inspect the pitch ahead of their historic World Cup final

The players smiled and waved to fans as they inspected the pitch at Stadium Australia this morning

England’s Alessia Russo and Spain’s Ona Battle enjoy a joke ahead of the World Cup final

Lauren James and Jordan Nobbs look relaxed as they inspect the pitch at Stadium Australia

Chloe Kelly of England looks focused as she inspects the pitch before the World Cup final

England’s Lucy Bronze was all smiles after arriving at the stadium ahead of kick off at 11am

Ella Toone of England walks out for the pitch inspection prior to the FIFA Women’s World Cup final

England boss Sarina Wiegman leads her team out of the Intercontinental hotel in Sydney ahead of this morning’s World Cup final

England defender Jess Carter clutches a hot drink as she boards the team bus this morning

England forward Rachel Daly looks focused as she steps out of the team hotel ahead of the game 

The players were seen stepping out of the Intercontinental in Sydney in their light blue tracksuits ahead of this morning’s clash with Spain – England’s first World Cup final since 1966

Supporters young and old gathered outside the hotel and cheered as their heroes boarded a maroon-coloured bus, branded with ‘The Final’ in gold lettering, to take them to Stadium Australia

She also added that the Prince of Wales is ‘disappointed’ not to attend the Women’s World Cup final, as she defended William and the Prime Minister from criticism that they have not travelled.

She said: ‘I’m in Australia representing the Government. The Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, is also here. I know that the Prime Minister feels very passionately about the women’s game.

‘Only about a month or so ago he and I were at 10 Downing Street with the Lionesses, and I know he sent a message to the Lionesses wishing them congratulations and luck today.’

READ MORE: Geri Horner, Emma Bunton and Jess Glynn lead the stars wishing England’s Lionesses good luck 

Asked if she understands the disappointment of people who suggest both William and Rishi Sunak would be attending if it were the men’s team in the same position, Ms Frazer added: ‘I think the royal family do a tremendous amount for the country in so many spheres, including in sport. Prince William is, of course, the president of the FA and is a tremendous supporter of the sport.

‘I know that he’s disappointed that he isn’t able to be here today but he has sent a message of good luck to the Lionesses.

‘I’m sure that on their return, win or lose, he will be congratulating them on how they’ve done in this competition.’

England and Arsenal footballer Beth Mead, who missed out on a spot in the Lionesses squad due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury, told the BBC this morning she is ‘not surprised’ they are in the World Cup final.

Mead told BBC Breakfast: ‘I’ve been super-proud of them and what they have achieved so far. 

‘Obviously they weren’t all guns firing in the group stages, but now they have grown into the tournament, a great semi-final against Australia and hopefully they peak today.

‘I’m not surprised where they are, I know the quality we have in the squad and the direction that Sarina (Wiegman) is putting us in.’

When asked how the Lionesses will be preparing in the last few hours before the final, Mead added: ‘I think the process won’t have changed throughout the tournament. From game one to now, nothing will have changed.

‘People who know the players, friends and family, will always message the day before to try not to bombard them on game day. Generally we wouldn’t look on social media to try and get too overexcited or anything in that sense.

‘I know the girls will be fully focused, they will have done their preparation and they will have done their work on Spain.

‘They will know all about them and knowing Sarina, she will have a plan A, B, C and D. Now they just have to go out there and enjoy it.’

Lauren James – who was sent off in the last game – gets set to make a return for today’s final 

Ella Toone, who played a huge role in England’s semi final triumph, will be looking to repeat the feat against Spain later today

Alessia Russo (middle), who scored in the semi final, will be looking to do so again against Spain today

England take their final walkabout in Sydney – before the World Cup final 

Sarina Wiegman has urged England to play the game of their lives today – to take their team to an historic first World Cup and sporting immortality

Meanwhile, it emerged today that girls’ football has become so popular at Lioness Ella Toone’s old club that they ‘can’t form teams fast enough’.

Lorraine Warwick-Ellis, from Astley and Tyldesley Community Football Club where Toone used to play, told the BBC: ‘(Women’s football) weren’t televised for a long time, which was a shame. Now we are on TV, we’re visual and the girls can see it, they can be it.

‘It’s great to see all these young girls now who are coming down. It’s like we cannot form teams fast enough for them. It’s superb.’

Toone’s former PE teacher Chris Nuttall said she was a ‘dream’ pupil because she got other students involved.

The PE teacher at Fred Longworth High School in Tyldesley told the BBC: ‘The good thing for us is Ella still comes back to school. She’s very supportive. And I think with the girls seeing Ella around the school as well when she comes in, it’s been a massive for them.

‘We have girls’ teams now in every year group. A lot of girls are very interested and we were just chatting then about how many of the students are coming through wanting to be part of the girls’ team, and that is massively down to Ella and her achievements.’

Meanwhile, England fans are already out in force around the UK and Australia this morning, getting set to cheer on the team as they bid for glory. 

The Lionesses held a training session yesterday ahead of what could prove to be the biggest game of their lives against Spain. 

Yesterday, Sarina Wiegman put the squad through their paces as the players had the opportunity to impress the manager and find a place among the 11 destined to line out today. 

England enter the match as favourites to win a first Fifa World Cup since Alf Ramsey’s men beat West Germany at Wembley Stadium in 1966. 

This is the first time the English senior women’s team has reached a World Cup final, although many of the squad were part of the UEFA European Women’s Championship winning team in Wembley Stadium in July 2022. 

Lauren Hemp (right) leads the Lionesses on a walkabout in Sydney ahead of the World Cup final

Hopes are high among the England team as they prepare to take on Spain later this morning

Ella Toone and Alessia Russo look focused as they stroll around Sydney ahead of today’s final

Lioness Alessia Russo has said she cannot wait to kick off England’s World Cup final after years spent rehearsing the winning strike in her childhood garden.

Maidstone-born Russo grew up watching her brothers play for the local boys’ side in East Farleigh, where she was too young to join in but would kick a ball around on the side of the pitch.

Soon, however, the now 24-year-old was featuring for both the girls’ and boys’ teams at Bearsted FC, which meant both weekend days were often occupied with football, while Russo’s preferred school-night activity remained playing on a strip of grass at the end of her street.

READ MORE: Sexism row over Sunday’s Women’s World Cup Final 

It would also not be wholly inaccurate to say Russo has already lifted a World Cup.

In primary school, the summer Arsenal signing played in an inter-school ‘Mini World Cup’ and walked away with a shock victory – while representing her side’s assigned country of South Korea.

Then there were the garden tournaments where, said Russo, ‘we had to score to stay in’.

She added: ‘As a kid, growing up to think we’re playing in a World Cup in a couple of days is a special feeling. A real ‘pinch me’ moment.’

However, while preparations on the field have been going well, in England there has been controversy as Prince William, who is president of the Football Association, will not be travelling to Sydney this weekend. 

The Lionesses knocked out co-hosts Australia 3-1 in the last four, while Spain booked their spot in the showpiece by edging out Sweden 2-1.

Both teams are playing in their first final, with England having lost back-to-back semis in 2015 and 2019 and Spain having only won one World Cup match before this year.

The Lionesses are unbeaten in the tournament having topped Group D, while Spain were runners-up in Group C following a 4-0 loss to Japan.

Spain are only the second team in World Cup history to reach the final having lost a game by four or more goals, after Norway bounced back from an opening 4-0 defeat against China to finish as runners-up in 1991.

Ella Toone played a big part in the semi-final win over Australia and is likely to be a key player again today

Lauren James is back amongst the squad today having been suspended following her red card against Nigeria

England’s Katie Zelem looks relaxed as she strolls around Sunday ahead of this morning’s final

Striker Alessia Russo was seen carrying a drink as she soaked up the Sydney sun ahead of the final

Bethany England and Jess Carter look relaxed on the Lionesses’ walkabout in Sydney

Rachel Daly and captain Millie Bright look focused ahead of this morning’s historic match against Spain

Alessia Russo (right) checks her phone as she walks around Sydney ahead of the World Cup final

Regardless of the result, Europe is guaranteed to end its 16-year World Cup drought, with Germany most recently winning in 2007, while it is 20 years since the last final to feature two European nations (Germany v Sweden in 2003).

As reigning continental champions, England are seeking to emulate the aforementioned German side by completing a historic double, having already matched Sarina Wiegman’s 2019 Netherlands team by reaching the final as Euros winners.

Netherlands’ defeat against the United States in the 2019 final remains Wiegman’s solitary loss across 25 matches at major international tournaments.

That remarkable record has been built on consistency in selection.

Having started with the same 11 in every match of Euro 2022, England have used just 17 players at the World Cup so far, the joint-fewest of any team to reach the knockout stages.

Spain – in contrast – have called on all but one of their 23-strong squad, with only third-choice goalkeeper Enith Salon yet to feature.

Wiegman has also barely used her bench compared to Jorge Vilda – her Spanish counterpart – with England having made 17 substitutions to Spain’s 29.

Statistically, Spain have outperformed England in most departments at this year’s World Cup.

They have scored 17 goals to the Lionesses’ 13, having attempted considerably more shots (143 to 81), passes (4,137 to 3,605), crosses (214 to 129) and ball progressions (181 to 99) than their final opponents.

Wiegman’s side have only occasionally found the form that carried them to the Euro 2022 title – when they scored 22 goals in six matches – and have instead relied on their defensive resilience to progress.

England have conceded only three times from 64 efforts on Mary Earps’ goal, while Spain have proved more susceptible having shipped seven goals from just 36 shots faced.

Both teams will be braced for a tight battle following their most recent meeting in the Euro 2022 quarter-finals.

The Lionesses emerged as 2-1 victors on that occasion, but only after a late fightback.

Esther Gonzalez fired Spain into a deserved lead before Ella Toone equalised in the 84th minute and Georgia Stanway scored an extra-time winner.

Spain dominated for large periods, ending with 56 per cent of possession and firing 17 shots to the Lionesses’ nine.

It remains the only tournament match under Wiegman in which England saw their opponents enjoy the majority of the ball.

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