If all was right in the world, we wouldn’t have to ever think about what the current players representing Spain have gone through over the last month (decades if we’re being honest). If all was just and fair, we would be talking about how Spain backed up their recent World Cup success with a strong performance against Sweden, the side they beat in the semi-finals at the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
Things aren’t quite so rosy though.
This Spanish has team has had to fight against misogyny, abuse and some truly outlandish behaviour from their federation to only become world champions, but to somehow find it within them to rally and win against Sweden in the UEFA Women’s National League.
As Alexia Putellas put it recently, they’re tired. They’re all very tired. It’s been nothing but non-stop harassment from the very people charged with ensuring their well being is taken care of. The Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and those sitting at the highest positions within the federation until very recently, have done everything in their power to exert control over these players and to keep that control, no matter the consequences. So coming into this match up against Sweden, one could be forgiven for thinking that Spain would slow down as the game progressed due to mental, physical and emotional fatigue.
They didn’t. Instead, these “mentality monsters” clawed their way back from 1-0 deficit to win it in stoppage time thanks to a Mariona Caldentey penalty.
Spain could’ve withdrawn into themselves when they conceded in the 23rd minute to a Magdalena Eriksson header. They could’ve decided that they had been through enough already and it wasn’t worth the effort to try and salvage something from this game and who could blame them? They had spent the last few days in heated negotiations with interim RFEF president Pedro Rocha and his associates long into the night. No one could have looked down on them if they had decided that it was all too much for them now.
Spain didn’t though. They rallied and looked to keep pushing Sweden as far as their bodies and their minds would allow them. They responded with a goal of their own that saw Athenea del Castillo’s effort beat Zećira Mušović (who should’ve done better) in the 37th minute and it seemed to breathe new life into the players on the pitch.
Spain came roaring back in the second half, seemingly taking over the game despite being the perceived “more tired” of the two teams. Their quality shown through, despite the circumstances surrounding them and they found themselves in the lead thanks to a fantastic 77th minute goal by Eva Navarro.
Sweden came back into the game with a Lina Hurtig equaliser in the 82nd minute but Spain continued to pose a massive threat, particularly in the space behind Jonna Andersson on Sweden’s left flank. Navarro popped up on more than one occasion, looking to score another audacious effort while Putellas, Caldentey, Aitana Bonmatí and Teresa Abelleira pulled the string in midfield. Sweden’s robust backline and midfield were constantly pulled apart by Spain and it was only a matter of time before a third goal arrived.
With time running out, Spain pushed forward once again and as the ball was kept by them on the edge of Sweden’s penalty area, Amanda Ilestedt brought down Amaiur Sarriegi, resulting in a penalty for Spain and a red card for one of Sweden’s standout players at the world cup.
With a loud crowd looking to put her off, and so much pressure due to the moment. Caldentey was coolness personified and slotted her penalty past Mušović’s dive.
This wasn’t just a show of mental toughness from Spain, it was a show of just how much quality is in this team. Throughout all of the issues they had to face, they still managed to win a World Cup and now, preserved to beat Sweden despite coming into the game with very little sleep and preparation. This performance showed that it wasn’t Jorge Vilda’s brilliance that led them to a World Cup, it was the players’. They won that title despite their former manager, not in spite of him.
Spain, like many other countries, deserve a manager and a federation that truly cares about them. They have had to fight tooth and nail to even be in this position, where the root cause of their problems in Luis Rubiales and Vilda, have both left their roles within the federation. They have won the previous battles but the war isn’t over yet. With what we saw on the pitch from them, Spain are more than ready to fight until the end to make sure that those following after them, coming up through the youth ranks, will not have to deal with the same issues they faced.
They’ve always been glorious to watch on the pitch, but now, we see just how mentally strong the current Spanish national team is. They still have an Olympic tournament to qualify for and based on what we witnessed today, you wouldn’t bet against them becoming the first team to ever win a World Cup and an Olympic Gold medal in consecutive years.