The Women’s World Cup semi-final on Wednesday in Sydney will be contested between two coaches who clashed during the last final in 2019. The winner is on the brink of making World Cup history.
Current Australia coach Tony Gustavsson was the assistant to Jill Ellis when the United States defeated the Netherlands, managed by the current England head coach Sarina Wiegman, 2-0 in Lyon to win a second successive tournament. Gustavsson was also assistant to Ellis when the United States won the Women’s World Cup in 2015.
In the almost 100-year history of the men’s and women’s World Cup, no coach has ever led two different nations to the final of the pre-eminent tournament in the sport. The winner of Wednesday’s semi-final between Australia and England at Stadium Australia will therefore create history in Sunday’s Women’s World Cup final.
Since the men’s World Cup began in 1930, only six coaches have managed teams in two finals – Vittorio Pozzo of Italy (1934 and 1938), Helmut Schön of West Germany (1966 and 1974), Carlos Bilardo of Argentina, Franz Beckenbauer of West Germany (both 1986 and 1990), Mario Zagallo of Brazil (1970 and 1998) and Didier Deschamps (2018 and 2022). Of those, only Pozzo won both finals.
In the Women’s World Cup, only two coaches have succeeded in this feat since the tournament was inaugurated in 1991 – Even Pellerud of Norway (1991 and 1995) and Ellis (2015 and 2019). Ellis is the only woman to win two World Cup finals, matching Pozzo’s pre-war achievements.
Should either Australia or England go on to win the Women’s World Cup in Sydney next Sunday, either the Swede, Gustavsson, or Dutchwoman, Wiegman, will also become the first non-national coach to lead a team to victory in the men’s or women’s competition.
It is a remarkable statistic of all thirty previous FIFA World Cups – 22 editions in the men’s competition, 8 in the women’s – that every world champion team has been coached by a native of the winning nation.
In fact in 93 years of competition, only three foreign coaches have even reached the World Cup final. The first was Englishman George Raynor who led Sweden to the men’s final in 1958. Austrian Ernst Happel led the Netherlands to the final in 1978 and, in the women’s game, Swede Pia Sundhage led the United States to the 2011 World Cup final where they lost on penalties to Japan.
The English-born Ellis is seen by some as the only foreign coach to win the World Cup with the United States in 2015 and 2019. However, she moved to West Virginia with her family as a teenager in 1981 and was long-since naturalized as an American citizen and was not considered as a foreign national coach by FIFA.
For Wiegman to reach successive World Cup finals with two different nations will be the latest accomplishment in a glittering CV as a national team coach. Last summer she became the first-ever coach in the sport’s history to win the UEFA Women’s Euro with two different countries, retaining the trophy she won with the Netherlands in 2017 as coach of the Lionesses in 2022. She is also the only coach in history, male or female, to win FIFA’s The Best Coach award on three occasions.
Her record since taking over the England job in September 2021 is one of unparalleled success. In 37 matches, she has won 29, losing only once. That sole defeat came at the hands of Gustavsson’s Australia in a warm-up match in April. Wiegman’s only outright defeat in 28 tournament matches as coach of the Netherlands and England came in the 2019 World Cup final to a United States side for which Gustavsson was the assistant coach.
Wiegman is also the last remaining coach capable of maintaining a remarkable run of success for female coaches in global competition. Four of the last five Women’s World Cups and the last five Olympics have been won by teams led by female coaches. This in spite of female coaches generally being outnumbered by around two to one in major international competitions.
Up against Gustavsson, Swedish coach Peter Gerhardsson and Spain’s Jorge Vilda, Wiegman is the last of the record number of twelve female coaches left at this Women’s World Cup. If she does not win, for the first time since Norio Sasaki led Japan to victory in 2011, and for only the second time this century, the Women’s World Cup will be won by a team led by a male coach.