Thanks to eight minutes of madness, Spain will be playing for its first World Cup title.
La Roja, which overcame last year’s near mutiny by its players against coach Jorge Vilda, beat Sweden 2-1 in Tuesday’s semifinal in Auckland, New Zealand.
Olga Carmona’s goal in the 89th minute capped a late scoring flurry that saw Sweden tie the game before Spain won it 90 seconds later on the surprise score.
Spain will play the winner of tournament co-host Australia and England on Sunday in the final in Sydney. Spain’s defeat of second-ranked Sweden makes it the highest-ranked team remaining in the tournament.
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Spain’s unlikely comeback
Moments after Sweden’s Rebecca Blomqvist scored in the 88th minute to apparently push the match toward extra time, Carmona beat Sweden goalkeeper Zecira Musovic with what would turn out to be the game-winner.
Ranked seventh in the world by FIFA, Spain did not appear to be a contender in this year’s World Cup because of its significant internal turmoil.
Last September, 15 players signed a letter complaining about Vilda and the conditions for the the national team. Three of those players were named to the World Cup squad and Vilda a day before the semifinal praised the Spanish federation for its support of him and the women’s program.
“This is a historic day,” said Vilda. “We’re in the final, that’s what we wanted.”.
Teen star Paralluelo rises to occasion once again
Salma Paralluelo, the 19-year-old super-sub who also scored the game-winner in Spain’s 2-1 extra-time quarterfinals victory over the Netherlands, scored in the 81st minute to break a scoreless tie. She gestured for the crowd to cheer, and the crowd thought it was celebrating Spain’s decider.
But the celebration was brief.
“It was a very tough game. It could’ve been difficult to recover from their goal, but we’ve shown that his team can deal with everything,” said Paralluelo. “We deserved this. We took this little step, and now we need that final push.”.
Another near-miss for Sweden
The Swedes have never won a World Cup, but they’ve come close: they were the 2003 runner-up and have finished third three times. Sweden won silver medals at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago, and at the 2016 Games in Brazil.
Spain is making only its third overall World Cup appearance. Four years ago, La Roja advanced to the knockout round but lost to eventual champions the United States.
“Now it’s the final. I think we have to do what we’ve done in every match,” said Paralluelo. “We’ve overcome every challenge and now we face the ultimate challenge, the big one”.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.