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One last check-in before we say goodbye to the 2023 Women's World Cup

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Women's World Cup wrapped up over the weekend with an unlikely victory from Spain. The team defeated England thanks in part to a first half goal from 23-year-old Olga Carmona. Let's take one last look at the drama of the last month with Meg Linehan. She covers women's soccer and is a senior writer with The Athletic. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MEG LINEHAN: Thanks for having me again.

SHAPIRO: So I said Spain's victory was unlikely. What stands out to you most about how they ended up taking this?

LINEHAN: Yeah, I mean, the story around Spain is so fascinating because this is a team that came into this World Cup kind of fully embroiled in a rebellion against its own federation. And you had players that had honestly refused to participate in the World Cup saying, I'm going to stand by my morals instead of playing. And then you had some players who had come back to participate in this team. There's kind of an open fight between them and their own head coach. They've gone to the federation to ask for help, and then they proceed through this World Cup, and there is this massive speed bump of a four-nothing loss at the hands of Japan in the group stage. But then they proceed to show that they are ready for the big stage. They've had huge amount of success on the Youth World Cup stage and now have won the U-17s, U-20s and the Senior World Cup all in the span of a year.

SHAPIRO: Does the fact that they won even though they didn't like the coach or the team leadership kind of contradict a lot of what we've heard about what it takes to take a trophy like this?

LINEHAN: I mean, that's the strange thing about women's soccer is that this is really nothing new. You think about the U.S. women's national team in 2019. They were in the middle of suing their own federation over equal pay and equal working conditions. So it is honestly sort of par for the course of women's football globally that players are able to play at the highest level while fighting a much larger battle off of the field.

SHAPIRO: Looking at the whole tournament, which player on any team impressed you the most?

LINEHAN: I mean, I think the breakout star of this World Cup was Linda Caicedo from Colombia. Colombia really, I think, exceeded everybody's expectations. But this is a player who played in the U-17, U-20 and then senior Women's World Cup. So she is, by far, going to be a player that everybody is talking about globally for the next four or five years at minimum.

SHAPIRO: And what was your favorite moment?

LINEHAN: Honestly, just being on the ground, it felt so much like a World Cup in the fact that you could get into a taxi or an Uber and everybody immediately wanted to talk to you about the soccer. And it wasn't a Women's World Cup, it was just a World Cup.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

LINEHAN: And it felt so different compared to other World Cups that I've been at, just the way that it captured Australia. The Matildas really took over a nation. They went on this amazing run. Sam Kerr, a global superstar of the sport, was hurt, made her comeback, scores - I think her goal was the goal of the tournament. And it gave this nation hope for all of eight minutes before they got knocked out. But it really was - it was a very special World Cup in a lot of ways.

SHAPIRO: What do you attribute that shift to? That - whether you're talking to taxi drivers or fans - it wasn't the Women's World Cup. It was a World Cup.

LINEHAN: Yeah, I just think that we have finally gotten to this point where we are seeing the tides turn with a fundamental respect for the sport. And obviously I think the Spain story is kind of a perfect symbol of how much work still has to be done in terms of respect and people in power and all these sorts of things. But when you actually just get out there and talk to people, they get captured in how exciting the game is and what it's like to actually attend and watch. But it really - it felt different in a way that I was not personally expecting, and I've been around this game for a couple decades now.

SHAPIRO: Well, if you look ahead to the 2024 Olympics, what does this competition tell you about what we might see there?

LINEHAN: I mean, rankings mean nothing, right? It's super exciting. We saw the U.S. get knocked out.

SHAPIRO: I know, the U.S....

LINEHAN: Germany didn't make it past...

SHAPIRO: ...What happened to them?

LINEHAN: ...The group stage. Yeah, I mean, that's an hour-long program for us to get into. But U.S. getting knocked out, Germany, Brazil, Canada, all of these massive teams not making it to the next stage, and you get a story like Colombia or the Matildas advancing. So it's going to be, I think, an extremely exciting 2024 Olympics and it's going to be an even bigger, even better 2027 World Cup if only we knew where it was.

SHAPIRO: So it's anyone's game sounds like.

LINEHAN: Yep, a hundred percent.

SHAPIRO: That's Meg Linehan, senior writer at The Athletic. Thanks a lot.

LINEHAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF JD MCPHERSON SONG, "BLOODHOUND ROCK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ari Shapiro
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.