Women's World Cup: England and Spain's remarkable mental toughness ahead of final showdown

England's Millie Bright (L) and Spain's Alexia Putellas (R). Credit: AP

I’m often asked before a major game, whatever the sport, who do you think is going to win?

It’s a question that always provokes the same response; “I really have no idea.”

It’s not belligerence talking, because frankly the players don’t know either, no more than their coaches do. Nobody knows.

So, as much as I’d love to say with confidence to England fans that the Lionesses will beat Spain and become the country’s first World Cup winners in 57 years, it’s by no means guaranteed.

Even if I think they have a better-quality squad and can field more match-winners than their opponents.

The truth is that most finals are won in the mind and Sydney 2023 will be no different.

What is tantalising is that both finalists have shown remarkable mental strength to make it all the way to the last two.

Spain’s journey began with a player revolt against their coach Jorge Vilda and the Spanish federation after last year’s Euros.

Fifteen of them refused to play for the national side until improvements relating mainly to their training environment, facilities and support were made. 

Spain's head coach Jorge Vilda. Credit: AP

Some eventually relented and a few are back in the fold, but a dozen good players are not here and the ramifications of that temporary stand-off, which caused huge tension at the time, still lingers.

During this tournament Spain have lost four nil to Japan in the group stages and overcome late equalisers from Sweden and the Netherlands.

Given all that, it’s quite clear the Lionesses will be dealing with an opponent which has the mental toughness to confront and beat adversity.

Add in some world class players, like Aitana Bonmati, Alexia Putellas and the emerging talent of Salma Paralluelo, and you get the measure of what the Lionesses are up against.

England themselves were disrupted by cruel injuries to key members of their Euros team, namely captain Leah Williamson, Fran Kirby and goal-scoring sensation Beth Mead before they even made it out down under.

They stuttered to start with in this tournament but still found a way to win even though not at their best.

Lauren James treading on Michelle Alozie. Credit: Getty images

They improved when Lauren James was handed a start by Sarina Wiegman, but then were forced to readjust again when James was sent off and banned for two games.

They won a penalty shoot-out against Nigeria, beat a very physical Colombian side and their mentality in dealing with a semi-final in the face of such hostile Australian support was more than impressive.

The evidence suggests both teams possess enough resilience to ride the occasion and not let the consequences of losing, stifle how they approach the game.

But whatever is said now, there will be nerves, there will be tension and apprehension of course.

Whoever tames those emotions best is more likely to head home with the trophy in the back of the plane.

Live coverage of this Sunday's FIFA World Cup final between England and Spain will be broadcast on ITV1 and ITVX, with kick-off slated for 11am BST

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