England's Lionesses heralded as 'game changers' back home despite loss to Spain in World Cup final
LONDON (AP) — The wait for a World Cup title goes on for England, but the Lionesses were still heralded as game changers back home after their loss to Spain in Sunday's final in Sydney.
King Charles III, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and a host of other politicians, royals and celebrities were quick to praise the England players on social media despite a 1-0 loss in the Women's World Cup title match.
“Although it’s the result none of us wanted, Lionesses you have done yourselves and this nation proud," Prince William, who is the president of England's Football Association, posted on social media. “Your spirit and drive have inspired so many people and paved the way for generations to come.”
After winning the European Championship at home last year, England reached the championship match in the women's global tournament for the first time. It was also the first time an England team had reached a World Cup final since the men's team won in 1966.
“You left absolutely nothing out there @Lionesses," Sunak posted on social media. “It wasn’t to be, but you’ve already secured your legacy as game changers. We are all incredibly proud of you.”
The European title helped grow the popularity of the women's game in England to unprecedented levels, and thousands of fans — men and women of all ages — gathered at venues around the country to watch the World Cup final at Stadium Australia. Some of the supporters watching the game on a big screen at a venue outside Wembley Stadium were crying after final whistle, but said the Lionesses' performances will only make them more popular.
“They’ve taken the game forward in this country more than anyone could ever believe,” 67-year-old Sue Whyatt said. "This should take women’s football throughout the world on to another level altogether.”
Loren Mitchell, a 20-year-old soccer player and fan, said watching the England team had been “very inspirational.”
"I want to be up there some day,” she said.
Still, there were some reminders that the women's game has to continue fighting for equality.
Prince William and Sunak were both criticized for not traveling to Australia for the final, opting to stay at home instead. William's decision was especially noteworthy as the head of the FA, the governing body of English soccer. Queen Letizia of Spain made the trip to attend the final along with her younger daughter Infanta Sofia.
“I would have personally liked him (William) to go there for the girls," Kelly Dodd, a 39-year-old fan who watched the game with her family at a screening at the Olympic Park in east London, told Britain's PA news agency. "If it was the men they probably would have made the effort to go.”
England's kit supplier Nike was also widely slammed for not putting a replica of Mary Earps' goalkeeping jersey up for sale alongside those of the outfield players. Earps saved a penalty during the final and was named the best goalkeeper of the tournament, becoming one of England's most popular players in the process.
Charles had urged the Lionesses to “roar to victory” in a social media post before the game, and offered his commiserations after the loss.
“While I know how sore it must be, let none of you feel defeated, for to have reached the final at all is an immense tribute to your skill, determination and team spirit in the finest sporting tradition," the British monarch wrote. “More than that, though, it will serve as an inspiration for generations to come – and, for that, your place in the history books is assured."
AP videographer Kwiyeon Ha contributed to this report.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup