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FOOTBALL

Spain’s women strive for glory in World Cup debut

Spain might be world famous for the beautiful game, but its women's team is about to compete in its first ever World Cup, could they give the men a run for their money?

Spain's women strive for glory in World Cup debut
Spain's women's football team are taking part in their first ever World Cup. Photo: AFP

Spain’s women’s football team will make history this week by taking part in their first ever World Cup, which kicks off in Canada on June 6th and runs until July 5th.

Perhaps surprisingly in a country known for its passion for the beautiful game, women’s football has been much slower to take off in Spain than in other countries.

While just the word Spain is often synonymous with football champions, Spain’s captain Veronica Boquete has played down the team’s chances:

“You could say they are zero,” she told news agency Reuters. “It’s the first time we are playing in a World Cup and there is still a big gulf between us and the main powers due to conditions in the professional game but not due to quality.”

Currently ranked 14th in the world, the Spanish team, coached by Ignacio Quereda, will make its World Cup debut against Costa Rica in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on June 9th, a match they are widely expected to win.

Trouble lies ahead however, with the other two teams that make up Group E – Brazil and South Korea, ranked seventh and 18th in the world, respectively.

“The players are enormously motivated and committed,” Quereda said in a May 11th press conference announcing his squad.

“Costa Rica is an opponent at our level, the most beatable. Brazil is an established side and will make it hard for us and Korea is a very physical and well-organised team,” added the 64-year-old.

Spain’s team is hoping to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero; to do so they have to come among the top three European teams in the World Cup.

The team’s historic participation in this year’s Women’s World Cup will bring visibility to a sport that ironically, is often ignored in Spain, home of the world’s greatest (male) football teams.

According to Spanish daily, El País, there has been a vicious circle when it comes to women’s football in Spain, “… small audiences, lack of media coverage, lack of sponsors and lack of investors.”

Spanish captain Veronica Boquete. Photo: Anders Henrikson/Wikimedia

For Spain’s captain, Veronica Boquete (pictured above), it comes down to a lack of practical equality in Spain that is ingrained in other countries, especially those in Scandinavia:

“In the nordic countries, in Sweden, the society is more equal. Equality is not just theoretic, but practical. There, there is a respect and admiration for women footballers, for sportswomen. In Spain, it’s different,” Boquete told El País in 2014.

In Spain, women footballers play alongside their jobs or studies, making a career out of the sport often involves emigrating. Boquete, currently plays for FFC Frankfurt, in Germany and has just signed for the female Bundesliga champions, Bayern Munich.

Not being able to play football full-time is one of the reasons that Spain’s adult teams do not tend to fulfill the promise of the country’s flourishing women’s youth teams:

“When you get to a certain age you have to decide how much time you are going to dedicate to sport and how much to your studies or your work,” said Boquete.

Now with its first appearance on the World Cup stage and the visibility it brings, Spain’s women footballers are hoping that the country with the world’s most passionate footie fans will put gender aside and support their sportswomen this June. 

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FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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