Captain Olga Carmona fired the winner in the 29th minute as La Roja emulated the men’s team which had won the World Cup in 2010, even though Jenni Hermoso failed to convert a 70th minute penalty which was saved by Mary Earps in front of 75,784 at Stadium Australia.
England’s Lauren Hemp hit the crossbar in the 16th minute but Spain were the more dangerous team overall and their teenager Salma Paralluelo hit the outside post on the stroke of half-time.
Spain were only playing in their third World Cup, with a last-16 berth in 2019 their previous best result. But huge progress has been made, and Sunday’s biggest title came after earlier world titles for their U17 and U20 women’s teams.
“We tried for so many days to imagine what is like to be world champions,” we couldn’t,” Hermoso said. “It is difficult to describe, it is a huge joy. I am so proud of this team. We showed that can fight as well and suffer.”
The title run came despite plenty of unrest in the build-up after 15 players in September had threatened to quit if coach Jorge Vilda stayed on. Vilda was backed by the Spanish federation and only three of the 15 were in the World Cup squad.
Spain rebounded well from a crushing 4-0 defeat against ex-champions Japan in their final group match, and then also avenged their quarter-final defeat at the Euros against England last year.
Euro winners England fell short of adding the world title which also means the men’s success back in 1966 remains their only World Cup title.
“This is really hard to take. We gave it everything. In the first half we weren’t at our best, we bounced back in the second half. We had chances, hit the bar but we just didn’t have the final edge and they got theirs in back of the net,” captain Millie Bright told the BBC.
Lionesses coach Sarina Wiegman lost a second World Cup final in a row after being beaten with her native Netherlands by the US in 2019. She has however won the Euros with the Dutch in 2017 and Enland in 2022.
England started with determination and Hemp came close in the 16th when she smashed against the crossbar off Rachel Daly, with Catalina Coll well beaten.
But seconds later Spain broke on the left and Paraluello incredibly failed to beat Earps from point blank range at the far post.
Spain grew even more in confidence and got the breakthrough in the 29th. Lucy Bronze lost the ball in midfield, Spain found a wide open left wing and Carmora drilled a low shot into the far right corner.
Paralluelo hit the outside post shortly before the break as Spain continued to press for a second after the restart, which Earps denied with a massive save in the 49th when she turned Mariona Caldentey’s shot around the post.
England tried to fight back and Hemp fired wide left at the far post off Chloe Kelly’s cross from the right.
But it appeared all over when Keira Walsh was adjudged to have handled the ball after a long video review by American referee Tori Penso. However, Hermoso’s penalty was too harmless as Earps easily saved diving to her left.
The moment gave England new strength and a drive from substitute Lauren James, back from suspension, into the near corner in the 76th was tipped over the bar by Coll.
But the Lionesses eventually failed to turn around the game like they had at the Euros.
They were lucky not to concede again when Jess Carter first blocked Hermoso’s shot, Earps saved from Ona Battle, and Spain celebrated after 16 minutes of stoppage time to receive the trophy from the nation’s queen Letizia.