Spain’s heartwarming detour from their own overjoyed celebrations has added a touching post-script to a dramatic FIFA Women’s World Cup semi-final that left Sweden players in tears.
Three goals between the 81st and 89th minutes flipped the contest on its head and ultimately sent Spain into the final and condemned Sweden to another near miss.
Sweden have now fallen short at the semi-final or final stage of a major tournament an unthinkable seven times in 20 years – and their devastation did not go unnoticed by the victors on Tuesday night in Auckland.
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Within a minute of the full-time whistle Spain’s Mariona Caldentey broke away to comfort her Barcelona teammate and friend Fridolina Rolfo.
Aitana Bonmati, another Barcelona star who later swapped shirts with Rolfo, looked downcast herself as she embraced the inconsolable Magdalena Eriksson.
‘Extraordinary drama’ sends Spain through to FIFA Women’s World Cup final
The Spanish victors halted their celebrations to comfort Sweden’s devastated players. Credit: Getty
“One thing I love about this World Cup is that when full-time happens, within two minutes you’ve got clubmates or friends off the pitch – it’s arm in arm straight away,” Adam Peacock said on Channel 7 as the contrasting pictures continued to roll.
“It’s not 10 minutes after and ‘good on you, mate, thanks for the game’. It’s genuine, heartfelt emotion between players, between combatants – as soon as the whistle goes, it changes.”
Matildas player turned broadcaster Grace Gill agreed.
“That has been one of the most heartwarming things about this tournament,” she said.
“Because as much joy and elation as there is for the winners of the game they’re so quick to turn their attention to make sure their friends, ultimately, are ok.
“To offer them a little bit of support in that moment is really touching to see.”
The sight of Swedish players reckoning with another defeat also hit close to home for injured Matildas star Elise Kellond-Knight.
The 33-year-old has had multiple stints in Sweden during her career and was a teammate of several players in the current squad.
“It’s disappointing for them, they’ve always been there. To fall short yet again, I feel for them,” Kellond-Knight said.
“I know a lot of those players in that team personally, so my heart’s broken a little bit for them.”
Watch Matildas v England in FIFA Women’s World Cup semi-final
Sweden quickly gathered in a huddle as the coach attempted to lift his players’ spirits. Credit: Maja Hitij/FIFA via Getty Images
Sweden gathered in a huddle less than five minutes after they were eliminated from contention for the title.
“There’s no words that can really help in this moment, it’s pretty gut-wrenching,” Kellond-Knight said.
“I think unity, making sure you support each other, you’re there for each other and bringing the group together.
“It’s easy when your heart breaks to just go off and have solitude but it’s important to bring the group back together and I think that’s what the coach is trying to achieve at that point.”