Bronze and Batlle’s embrace signifies most global and connected women’s World Cup | Jonathan Liew

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Rise of European superclubs raised the bar to undreamed level with Spain’s devastating show of strength and the US in decline

Lucy Bronze and Ona Batlle held each other. One in defeat and one in victory, one with a medal she wanted and one with a medal she did not. But in that moment they were not rivals or adversaries, just Lucy and Ona: friends, soulmates, former Manchester residents, and in very short order teammates at Barcelona.

And as both sets of players embraced after Sunday’s draining final, there was more than a degree of familiarity between them. Bronze has been joined by Keira Walsh at Barcelona, who provided eight of Spain’s finalists. Hannah Hampton grew up in Spain and spent part of her childhood in the Villarreal academy. Batlle has just spent three years at Manchester United playing with the likes of Katie Zelem, Ella Toone and Mary Earps.

As the curtain comes down on a month-long feast of football, this is in many ways the broader story of this World Cup: the most global and connected tournament that has taken place in women’s football. There may have been 32 nations taking part but in reality their players were representing more than 40 league systems around the world, from Kazakhstan to Iceland, Ecuador to Saudi Arabia. This cultural cross-pollination, an unprecedented movement of players across national borders, taking their styles and influences with them, has helped to contribute to perhaps the richest and certainly the most unpredictable World Cup in memory.

This is a phenomenon that works in many directions. Open borders mean fewer secrets: where once a group game against Haiti might have been a step into the unknown, England’s analysts had ample footage of their prospective opponents from the 14 of them who ply their trade in France. But it also allows players from emerging nations to hone their skills at a higher level: Colombia’s irresistible adaptability was forged not just at home but in Spain and the United States, where 14 of them have played. The Nigeria squad that ran England so close are employed on four continents.

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Written by Jonathan Liew
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Bronze and Batlle’s embrace signifies most global and connected women’s World Cup | Jonathan Liew

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