AUCKLAND — Olga Carmona struck late to lift Spain to a thrilling 2-1 semifinal win over Sweden on Tuesday and send the Iberians to their first Women's World Cup final.
Teenager Salma Paralluelo, Spain's quarter-final hero against the Netherlands, produced magic off the bench again, putting her side in front in the 81st minute and breathing life into what had been a slow-burning, cagey affair.
SHE'S A HERO ONCE AGAIN, IT'S SALMA PARALLUELO pic.twitter.com/lX1Vrht0ZZ— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) August 15, 2023
Wearing the captain's armband, Carmona's 90th-minute strike from the edge of the area pinged off the crossbar and into the net two minutes after Rebecka Blomqvist had levelled the match for Sweden in front of a baying crowd of 43,217 at Eden Park.
LATE DRAMA FROM SWEDENWE'RE ALL LEVEL IN AUCKLAND! pic.twitter.com/iWCAEWKclc
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) August 15, 2023
STOP IT OLGA CARMONAARE YOU KIDDING US! pic.twitter.com/NLCwDouzfa
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) August 15, 2023
Less than a year after a player revolt against coach Jorge Vilda tore the squad apart, 'La Roja' will have the chance to lift the trophy in Sydney on Sunday when they face co-hosts Australia or England in the decider.
"We're extremely happy. If you go to the dressing room now, it’s incredible how they’re celebrating," Vilda told reporters.
"We have the final in front of us, we’re going to Sydney tomorrow and we want to win."
Peter Gerhardsson's Sweden bow out after another defeat at the penultimate hurdle, having made the semifinals in France four years ago and at last year's European Championship.
"It felt like a punch in the stomach when they managed to take the lead again straight away. There are no words," Sweden defender Magdalena Eriksson told Swedish radio.
Fifteen Spain players had threatened to quit last year if Vilda was not moved on, but on Tuesday his decision to replace playmaker Alexia Putellas with Paralluelo before the hour mark proved decisive as the team beat Sweden for the first time at their 12th attempt.
19-year-old Salma Paralluelo has been brought on in the 57th minute for Spain pic.twitter.com/XsSC8UM6rJ— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) August 15, 2023
JOY TO DESPAIR
In a match-up of Iberian attacking flair and Swedish defensive resilience, Spain were the livelier side early on but had nothing to show for it.
Full back Carmona blazed just wide with a low, long-range effort in the 14th minute and midfield dynamo Aitana Bonmati thrashed a wild shot past the same right post from the edge of the area.
However, Sweden finished the half ascendant with a typical salvo of set-piece pressure.
A few minutes from the break, Spain were dealt a fright as Nathalie Bjorn chested the ball down and crossed to an unmarked Fridolina Rolfo in the area.
But the Sweden winger's volley was well covered by keeper Cata Coll.
Sweden kept up the heat after the break but Paralluelo, named player of the match, wrested back the momentum for the Spaniards.
She came close to breaking the deadlock in the 70th minute when she kept the ball alive with a cut-back pass to Alba Redondo in close. Slumped on the turf, Redondo swung a leg out but could only put her shot into the side netting.
Eleven minutes later Paralluelo pounced again on a poor clearance, thumping home into the right corner to send Spanish fans into delirium.
"It was a magic moment once again," said the 19-year-old, who scored in the 111th minute to dump the Netherlands out of the tournament.
"To be able to repeat this is really incredible."
It looked all over for Sweden as regulation time dwindled but Lina Hurtig headed down to an unmarked Blomqvist, who volleyed home from close range.
The Swedes' joy quickly turned to despair when Carmona took the ball from a corner, took a few paces forward and unleashed a fierce strike that keeper Zecira Musovic tipped onto the underside of the bar.
The ball bounced down over the line, giving Spain a chance to create more history at their breakout World Cup.
Sweden boss Gerhardsson was left to rue the cruel, late twist.
"I think everyone just feels sadness and huge disappointment," he said.
"We felt this enormous joy and elation that maybe we can bring this to extra time. Then it turned again."
Host nation New Zealand bid a fond farewell to the tournament, having generated a total attendance of more than 700,000 people in 29 matches across four cities.
Spain vs. Sweden full highlights Women's World Cup
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)