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Bonmati inspires Spain to their first women's World Cup

August 20, 2023

Spain are world champions after a 1-0 win over England in Sydney. Olga Carmona scored the final’s only goal – but Spain’s triumph is built on midfield dominance, led by the inspirational Aitana Bonmati.

FIFA Fußball Frauen-WM | Finale Spanien vs England
Image: Morgan Hancock/Shutterstock/IMAGO

Aitana Bonmati wasn’t even expected to play at this World Cup. But she now stands as a World Cup winner, Golden Ball recipient, and likely soon-to-be-crowned best player in the world.

The midfielder was at her crafty best as Spain defeated England 1-0 in the final.

"I don’t have any words for this moment, it’s unbelievable," a stunned Bonmati told the BBC. "I'm so proud because we played a great tournament. We suffered but also we enjoyed it. We deserve it."

"Everyone knew the goal during our preparations at the beginning of the tournament. Everyone in the squad is competitive and has a strong mentality to win. We have been working for many years for this moment and we have it. We have the trophy."

In a match that was always going to shift and sway in the midfield, Bonmati led the way as Spain suffocated and nullified England for much of the 90 minutes. 

It’s been a breakout tournament for the 25-year-old, who’s usurped Alexia Putellas as Spain’s most influential player.

There’s good reason why Pep Guardiola said he was "completely in love with her for the way she plays".

Aitana Bonmati for Spain at the World Cup.
Aitana Bonmati has been the star of the show for Spain at the World Cup.Image: Kim Price/ZUMA Wire/IMAGO

Barcelona midfield battle

All eyes pre-game were on Spain’s counterparts, particularly Bonmati’s Barcelona teammates Keira Walsh and Lucy Bronze.

This was England’s final. Euros winners from 2022, bronze medalists from the last two World Cups in 2015 and 2019. Heavy investment in the women’s game has been paying off with the Women's Super League exploding and muscling its way ahead of other nations' leagues.

But Bonmati wasn’t so prepared to allow England that kind of dominance in this final.

The opening 20 minutes saw chances fall to both sides, with England’s Lauren Hemp stinging the post and Salma Paralluelo scuffing her lines from just a few yards out.

But as Bronze galloped upfield into a wall of Spanish defenders on the half-hour mark, La Roja hit with clinical precision.

Mariona Caldentey played a perfect ball into the onrushing left-back and captain Olga Carmona, allowing her to hit a perfect first-time effort past Mary Earps for her third goal of the tournament.

Spain fans in raptures after World Cup win

Thereafter, Spain suffocated the the first half, shutting down Walsh’s options moving forward and forcing England into hopeful forays on the wings.

“We had all studied the English team and it was the game of our lives," Carmona said. "We managed to neutralise very good players from England. We won this game on our merit, not because England did not play well.”

Principles passed down through a generation

Bonmati grew up in a coastal town south of Barcelona and was born into a family that instilled in her a rebellious nature from birth.

Spanish children are given both parents’ last names and Bonmati’s family wanted to break away from norms and attempted to list her mother’s last name first.

They fought against the long-held rule of prioritising the father’s name, and won.

She told the Players' Tribune before the World Cup that she had a willingness to fight for women's rights "in her blood".

It’s what fueled her fight for her and her teammates' rights against the Spanish FA and coach Jorge Vilda in 2022, when 15 players went on strike in an attempt to instigate change.

She was vilified in parts of the press and missed out on precious minutes with her nation but she was passionate about the Spanish FA needing to "invest more in us".

In the end, she put aidse her grievances to return to the national setup, intent to prove herself on the international level after a stellar season for Barcelona.

Bonmati enhanced her reputation across the past 12 months, winning the Liga F and Champions League for Barca, before scoring three goals and two assists at the World Cup.

Her performances have prompted praise from the highest quarters, with Guardiola labeling her the female Andres Iniesta, and Xaxi saying “gets me off my seat, that’s the reason people are so passionate about this sport”.

Spain's women are crowned world champions for the first time.
Spain's women were crowned world champions for the first time.Image: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

One goal enough to conquer England

England coach Sarina Wiegman rang the changes at halftime as she attempted to get Walsh involved, with Lauren James and Chloe Kelly introduced to the game.

It changed the dynamic in midfield slightly as England tried to force Spain on the backfoot.

"The first half we didn’t have our best game, we just couldn’t get near them. But the second half I think changing the shape was much better," Millie Bright said.

"You know, winning the duels, being aggressive, putting them on the backfoot. But it’s small margins in football and this shows how cruel it can be."

Despite the improvements from England tactically, Spain adapted to the changes and still continued to forge the better chances, with Earps forced into a superb right-hand save across her body to deny Caldentey in the 50th minute.

Spain were then gifted an opportune chance to put the game to bed in the 70th minute when VAR awarded a penalty for a handball in the box from Walsh. Jenni Hermoso’s poor effort was covered by Earps, however, forcing Spain to find another way to close down the game.

With Bonmati stationed firmly in midfield alongside Teresa Abelleira and Hermoso, an organized unit forced the clock down with every trick they could find, frustrating England and the majority of the white-and-red-clad crowd.

"We knew their qualities but we have a very good team. That’s why we’ve been doing a lot of work and we were confident in ourselves. And finally we showed the world how we can play," Irene Paredes said.

When the final whistle sounded, Bonmati fell into the arms of Caldentey, the realisation of the moment hitting her. And as she climbed onto the stage to receive her Golden Ball award as best player of the tournament, Bonmati completed her transformation from rebel instigator to World Cup hero.

Edited by Michael Da Silva

Janek Speight Sports reporter and editor