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FIFA Women’s World Cup: Mutiny cloud dissipated as Spain thrives without unhappy players

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Spain are arguably the biggest surprise of the Women’s World Cup given the backdrop to their run to the final for the first time was a locker room revolt that robbed them of some of their best players.

In September last year, a large group of players told the Spanish FA (RFEF) they were quitting the national team while long-standing coach Jorge Vilda remained in charge, setting off an earthquake inside what was an already broken changing room.

ALSO READ: Women’s World Cup: Spain coach says off-field turmoil ‘made us stronger’ at World Cup

RFEF President Luis Rubiales received 15 e-mails from 15 players, all written in the first person but saying the same thing, in the same words.

“I inform you that the events that have occurred and the situation that has arisen in the Spanish national team, a situation of which you are aware, are having an important effect on my emotional state and by extension my health,” the letter read.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 15: Spain players celebrate the team’s 2-1 victory and advance to the final following the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Semi Final match between Spain and Sweden at Eden Park on August 15, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – AUGUST 15: Spain players celebrate the team’s 2-1 victory and advance to the final following the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Semi Final match between Spain and Sweden at Eden Park on August 15, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
| Photo Credit:
Catherine Ivill

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AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – AUGUST 15: Spain players celebrate the team’s 2-1 victory and advance to the final following the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Semi Final match between Spain and Sweden at Eden Park on August 15, 2023 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
| Photo Credit:
Catherine Ivill

“As a result I do not currently consider myself to be in a condition to be chosen for the national team and I ask not to be called up until the situation is resolved.”

Three others, captain Irene Paredes, veteran striker Jennifer Hermoso and twice Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, showed support for their team mates but crucially did not send a letter.

Reports of a divided changing room and of a broken relationship with Vilda had been swirling around the team before and during Euro 2022, intensifying after the heartbreaking loss to England in the quarterfinals.

Players, the reports said, were unhappy with the RFEF’s lack of ambition for the women’s team as well as with Vilda’s training methods which were no longer resonating with the players.

ALSO READ: FIFA Women’s World Cup: Former athlete Paralluelo gives Spain X factor

There was never any suggestion of inappropriate behaviour and the campaign was undermined because none of the players came out publicly to explain exactly what their demands were, only denying that they had asked for Vilda to be fired.

The RFEF backed Vilda during the darkest hours of the revolt and he cut the players involved in the dispute out of his squad.

Marquee names like Sandra Panos, Patri Guijarro, Mapi Leon and Claudia Pina, key players in Barcelona’s brilliant Champions League title campaign, were among those left out. Paredes and Hermoso too.

ALSO READ: Nike v. Adidas: FIFA Women’s World Cup sponsors gear up for England, Spain finale

Spain’s talent pool was so deep that even without several of their best players they remained highly competitive.

A strong run of results strengthened Vilda and RFEF’s position and eight of the 15 backed off months later, asking to be reintegrated into the squad before the World Cup.

Hermoso and Paredes had already come to terms with RFEF and were reinstated but Vilda found space for only three of the other mutineers in his World Cup squad.

ALSO READ: FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 FINAL preview: Australia, England, Spain vying for glory as maiden champion

What would have been one of the strongest and most exciting teams in the world arrived at the tournament shattered and discredited.

However, even without the players left behind, and with Putellas still struggling for her best form due to an ACL tear that sidelined her for almost a year, Spain are shining under the spotlight on the biggest stage.

The 4-0 group stage thrashing by Japan looks like a blip as ‘La Roja’ prepare to face England on Sunday in the biggest match of their lives with the full backing of the nation.



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