Spain, Getting Last Word, Reaches First World Cup Final

The clock started ticking as soon as Rebecka Blomqvist’s shot, crafted with considerable calm and poise given the circumstances, swept into the net. Sweden did not know it, not at that point, but it had 95 seconds to enjoy that sensation, of a game being saved, of a World Cup campaign being extended. It would not last beyond that.

In that time, that minute and a half, the Swedish players rushed the field, seeking out Blomqvist — a late substitute — to thank her for hauling her team back from the brink. Sweden’s coach, Peter Gerhardsson, and his staff embraced on the touchline. Spain’s players stared with glassy eyes at the grass, trying to summon the energy to go through it all again.

It was not long, after all, since they had thought they were heading to a first World Cup final. Salma Paralluelo, the ascendant star of the latter stages of this tournament, had broken the scoreless deadlock that seemed to have settled on Eden Park. She had proved decisive a few days beforehand, in the quarterfinal against the Dutch. Here, she had reacted instinctively to end Sweden’s resistance.


That had prompted the Spanish bench to empty, too; prematurely, as it turned out. The lead had lasted almost exactly seven minutes before Blomqvist struck, and parity was restored. Thoughts drifted toward extra time, and penalties, and how whole worlds turn on the very finest of margins.

And then Spain, as irony would have it, won a corner. Set pieces are Sweden’s not-especially-secret weapon, of course. A day before the game, Jorge Vilda, the Spanish coach, had offered a paean of praise — one just ever so slightly tinged, perhaps, with the aesthete’s disapproval — to his opponents’ efficacy from dead balls.

Spain did not, though, choose to heave the ball into the penalty area, to shave the odds, to play the percentages. Instead, it was passed, crisply, quickly, out to Olga Carmona, the fullback. She took a touch, steadied herself, and then sent a fizzing shot looping over the outstretched arms of Sweden goalkeeper Zecira Musovic. It clipped the bar as it fell, rolling into the back of the net.

Once again, 95 seconds after their hearts had sunk, Spain’s players were back on the field, back in the lead, the coaching staff spraying drinks, a few cool heads pleading for calm amid the jubilation. This time, though, there would be no final twist. Sweden huffed and puffed; Spain held firm. The scored held at 2-1. The next time the substitutes’ bench emptied would be the last.

Spain came into this tournament without ever having won a knockout game. That is three in a row now. One more and it will, for the first time, be champion of the world.

Rory Smith is The Times’s chief soccer correspondent, based in Britain. He covers all aspects of European soccer and has reported from three World Cups, the Olympics, and numerous European tournaments. More about Rory Smith

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