Monday July 22, 2024

‘How to win graciously’: Sportsmanship melts hearts at World Cup

August 18, 2023

SYDNEY: Unless there is an uncharacteristic outbreak of hostility and flurry of red cards in Sunday´s final, opposing players consoling each other after games will be among the enduring images of the Women´s World Cup.

England, who face Spain in the final in Sydney, have been notably quick to approach their emotional opponents after the final whistle to offer a heartwarming hug and words of sympathy.

The European champions dealt out some rough treatment to Australia´s skipper Sam Kerr in defeating the co-hosts 3-1 in their semi-final on Wednesday in front of 75,000 in Sydney.

But after the final whistle the Lionesses players and staff consoled an emotional Kerr, who plays in England for Chelsea and is one of the most respected forwards around.

Images of England players rushing over to commiserate with Nigerian goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie after defeating the African side on penalties in the last 16 were shared widely online.

England midfielder Keira Walsh said it was not something the players had made a conscious decision to do. It was the result of an ethos established by coach Sarina Wiegman about remaining humble and respectful in victory.

"We all know the feeling of being knocked out of a World Cup and it´s one of the worst feelings in the world," Barcelona´s Walsh said. "When you can see fellow players who are really upset, I think the natural human thing is just to go over and see if they are OK.

"I´d like to think that most people would do the same in that situation." Pictures of Sweden defender Jonna Andersson hugging a distraught Maika Hamano of Japan after their quarter-final were also widely shared online.

"I got sad because I saw she was sad," Andersson told reporters in Auckland after Sweden´s victory. "I hope it was important for her to feel that support, I know she has that support from the national team and the club team.

"I wanted to show her that I care about her, she´s a fantastic person." The two players know each other well from club football, where both played this season for Hammarby in Stockholm. There were similar scenes on Tuesday, when the tables were turned and the Swedes left in tears after Spain won 2-1 in their semi-final.

Spain´s players comforted a tearful Fridolina Rolfo, the Swedish forward who plays for Barcelona and was up against several club colleagues. Julie Dolan, the first captain of Australia´s Matildas, in 1979, noted that similar happens in the men´s game, but not to the same extent.

"It´s how to win graciously, I guess," she told AFP. "It´s a wonderful thing to see." Pundits say it has been one of the endearing features of a World Cup that will already go down as the best-attended and be remembered for a series of shock results.

"That has been one of the most heartwarming things about this tournament," former Australia international turned broadcaster Grace Gill 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."