By Jonny Bray
The stars of the Barclays Women’s Super League lit up the World Cup this summer.
Spain beat England 1-0 in the final at Stadium Australia, but the country can be proud of a Lionesses squad that included just three players who ply their trade outside of England’s top flight.
There were no shortage of other BWSL stars in action across the knockout stages – let’s take a look back at the pick of the action.
The Lionesses had to settle for a goalless draw against an impressive Nigeria side in the last 16 but after winning 4-2 on penalties, with Manchester City’s Chloe Kelly firing the winning spot-kick into the top corner, their sizeable collective of Barclays Women’s Super League heroes progressed to the next stage.
Elsewhere, Spain beat Switzerland 5-1 to start their march to World Cup glory. That result sent Arsenal stars Noelle Maritz and Lia Walti, as well as new Tottenham signing Luana Buehler, back to north London.
Eleven players based in England were included in tournament co-hosts Australia’s squad and Arsenal’s Caitlin Foord helped make the difference in the Matilda’s first knockout stage match.
Foord’s 29th-minute opener set Australia on their way to a 2-0 win over Denmark, secured by former Manchester City ace Hayley Raso, and eliminated eight BWSL representatives in the process.
Everton’s Katja Snoeijs, Arsenal’s Victoria Pelova and Manchester City’s Kerstin Casparij all progressed to the quarter-finals as Netherlands beat South Africa 2-0 thanks to finishes from Casparij’s new City teammate Jill Roord and Lineth Beerensteyn.
West Ham duo Risa Shimizu and Honoka Hayashi, Liverpool midfielder Fūka Nagano and Manchester City’s Yui Hasegawa were all part of Japan’s exciting team down under, and they progressed to the last eight with a 3-1 triumph over Norway.
Shimizu scored one of Japan’s goals to send Chelsea players Maren Mjelde and Guro Reiten, Brighton’s Guro Bergsvand, United’s Vilde Bøe Risa and Frida Maanum of Arsenal back to their clubs.
Sweden had an abundance of big-name players based in England, and it showed as they knocked out defending champions USA in the last 16.
Chelsea’s Zećira Mušović produced an inspired performance to keep the game goalless after 120 minutes while Arsenal’s Lina Hurtig then scored the decisive penalty in the shootout to take Sweden through.
Tottenham’s Rosella Ayane and Morocco were out after a 4-0 defeat at the hands of France, for whom Aston Villa’s Kenza Dali found the back of the net.
Two more Spurs players were eliminated as Colombia beat Jamaica 1-0. Rebecca Spencer and Drew Spence were part of the iconic Jamaica squad that reached the knockout stages for the first time, as was captain Khadija Shaw of Manchester City.
The Lionesses showed immense heart to come from behind and beat Colombia 2-1 in the quarter-finals, Manchester City’s Lauren Hemp and new Arsenal signing Alessia Russo on target, and they weren’t the only players from those clubs to impress.
Arsenal’s Amanda Ilestedt and City’s Filippa Angeldahl were on target as Sweden beat Japan 2-1 to secure their spot in the semi-finals, with Hammers ace Hayashi’s 87th-minute consolation proving too little, too late.
With five BWSL players included in France’s squad and eleven in Australia’s, there was always going to be several left disappointed after their quarter-final clash.
Les Bleus ended up on the wrong side of a 7-6 penalty shootout defeat, West Ham goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold saving four penalties in the shootout, while Chelsea’s Sam Kerr continued her return from injury.
It was also the end of the road for The Netherlands, who fell to a 2-1 defeat against Spain after extra time.
Sweden could not stop Spain’s march to the World Cup final, falling to a 2-1 defeat at Eden Park following three goals in the final ten minutes.
Arsenal forward Hurtig thought she had helped take the game to extra time when she set up Rebecka Blomqvist’s equaliser.
However, Spain skipper Olga Carmona scored an 89th-minute winner to send her side through.
Kerr was selected to start in Australia’s semi-final clash with England and cancelled out Ella Toone’s opener with a stunning strike from outside the box.
It was not enough to send the co-hosts into the final, however, as Hemp and Russo struck to send the Lionesses through.
Manchester United’s Mary Earps picked up the Golden Glove award and shone in the final, saving a second-half penalty from Jenni Hermoso.
England ultimately slipped to a 1-0 defeat, meaning BWSL stars may be returning without World Cup medals, but they will begin the new domestic season having cemented their status as household names after a month which has inspired a nation.