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Most Spanish women footballers rejoin squad after deal

Most of Spain's international footballers have agreed to rejoin the squad, the government said Wednesday, following a strike by the World Cup winners over the disgraced former president of the federation forcibly kissing a player.

Most Spanish women footballers rejoin squad after deal
Spain's defender Irene Paredes (C) and teammates arrive at Valencia airport, on September 19, 2023 one day after new coach of Spain's female football team announced the squad for the UEFA Nations League football matches against Sweden and Switzerland. New Spain coach Montse Tome named a surprise 23-woman squad for upcoming Nations League qualifiers including 20 players officially on strike. Players demand structural changes in the Spanish football federation (RFEF) after the President forcibly kissed a player on the lips after Spain won the World Cup in Sydney on August 20, provoking worldwide outrage. (Photo by Jose Jordan / AFP)

The announcement followed hours of negotiations over player demands for further changes at the Spanish football federation (RFEF) after ex-president Luis Rubiales resigned.

“We have arrived at a series of agreements which will be drawn up and signed tomorrow” between the RFEF and the Spanish government, Victor Francos, secretary of state for sports, told reporters, adding that two of the 23 called-up players did not wish to continue with the squad.

A total of 19 players from new coach Montse Tomé’s squad had been on strike over changes they want made to the RFEF, sparking concerns they would not play in upcoming Nations League games.

In the hours before the deal was announced, internationals selected by Tomé gathered for training despite declaring themselves unavailable, some expressing fear of facing sanctions if they refused to play.

“We have been forced to come. But if they want to sanction us, then we have to come,” Barcelona defender Mapi León said.

Asked by a reporter on her arrival for training if she was happy to be included in the squad, goalkeeper Misa Rodríguez replied “no”.

Two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas was asked at Barcelona airport how she felt. “Well, bad,” the Barca player replied.

The striking players issued a statement Monday in which they had reiterated their wish not to be called up, while acknowledging the potential for legal consequences may force them to attend.

They had faced possible fines of between €3,000 and €30,000 ($3,200 and $32,100), while they could also have lost their licences to play for up to five years.

Secretary of state for sport Francos, who is also the president of Spain’s High Council for Sports (CSD), said the two women who decided not to play would not face sanctions.

Spain’s forward Eva Navarro (C), defender Ohiane Hernández and teammates arrive at a hotel in Oliva near Valencia, on September 19th 2023 one day after new coach of Spain’s female football team announced the squad for the UEFA Nations League football matches against Sweden and Switzerland. (Photo by José Jordan / AFP)
 

Outrage

The scandal erupted just moments after Spain won the World Cup on August 20, when then president Rubiales forcibly kissed midfielder Jenni Hermoso on the lips as the team received the trophy.

He eventually resigned three weeks after the incident and controversial coach Jorge Vilda was sacked, but many players demanded more wide-ranging improvements and structural changes.

Hermoso was not named in the squad in order to “protect” her, the new coach Tomé, Vilda’s former assistant, said Monday.

That decision too proved controversial.

“Protect me from what? And from whom?” Hermoso posted on X on Tuesday.

She accused the RFEF of seeking to “intimidate and threaten” the world champions by calling them up against their will for the upcoming matches.

Francos initially said he would have to apply the country’s sports law against any player who snubbed the call.

However he later made a U-turn on those comments and met with the players on Tuesday night to ask them to play and offer them government help.

“You go (to play) and we commit ourselves so that what you are asking for can be possible,” Francos told Spanish public television.

“If any player is not comfortable and does not want to play, I think the most normal thing is that they are not called up and another one is called up,” he added.

Spain face Sweden on September 22nd and Switzerland on September 26 in the Nations League.

The eventual finalists of the Nations League will qualify for the 2024 Olympic Games.

‘We support them’

Spanish players were offered support by their Swedish counterparts.

“They need to feel the support around them, that other countries support them in the decisions they make,” said Sweden midfielder Filippa Angeldahl.

“If they feel they have to boycott to make something happen, it’s clear that we support them.”

Goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl wrote on X: “I don’t want to be part of encouraging people to chase a football dream if the game will not protect them while doing so.”

Spain plan to fly to Sweden on Thursday morning before their match in Gothenburg on Friday.

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FOOTBALL

World champions Spain beat France to win Women’s Nations League

Aitana Bonmatí scored as Spain added the Women's Nations League trophy to their World Cup title with a comfortable 2-0 victory over France in Wednesday's final in Seville.

World champions Spain beat France to win Women's Nations League

Spain continued their golden run of form as they prepare for a first ever appearance at the Olympics in Paris later this year.

The world champions secured a title at the first attempt for coach Montse Tomé, who replaced controversial boss Jorge Vilda after he was sacked following the World Cup and ex-football federation president Luis Rubiales’s forcible kiss on the lips of forward Jenni Hermoso.

“In September things were strange, we faced it, we tried to solve it,” Tomé said of the fall-out following the Rubiales scandal when she took over.

“September is a long time ago and now we’re in a different time.

“I like to focus on the positive and I feel that this team has given me a lot.”

Hopes are high that France, coached by Herve Renard, can challenge for the Olympic title on home soil, but they were completely outplayed by Spain.

“I faced Spain at the 2018 World Cup with Morocco, against a midfield of (Andres) Iniesta, Isco and (Sergio) Busquets. I had the impression that I saw the same thing this evening,” said Renard.

Spain dominated the early stages, coming close to breaking the deadlock in the 26th minute when centre-back Irene Paredes powered a header from a corner just wide.

Spain’s midfielder #06 Aitana Bonmatí (L) scores her team’s first goal during the UEFA Women’s Nations League final football match between Spain and France at the La Cartuja stadium in Seville, on February 28, 2024. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

Bonmatí strikes

The hosts did forge ahead just after the half-hour mark as France were cut open down their left-hand side, with Ballon d’Or winner Bonmatí arriving unmarked in the centre to volley home Olga Carmona’s cross from close range.

Spain almost doubled their advantage in the final seconds of the first half, as Laia Aleixandri headed wide, with appeals for a penalty for a possible deflection off France defender Amandine Henry’s arm waved away.

But Tomé’s side wasted little time in making it two after the break, as Mariona Caldentey swept Ona Batlle’s low ball into the bottom corner in the 53rd minute.

France never threatened a fightback, failing to muster a single shot on target in the match.

Paredes had another header saved by France goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin as Spain pushed for a third, but they had to settle for the most straightforward of two-goal victories.

“Six months ago we won the World Cup and now the Nations League, what more could you ask for?,” Barcelona star Bonmatí told RTVE.

“It’s quite incredible everything we have achieved… This team has no ceiling — World Cup, now Nations League and now for the Olympics.”

Later on Wednesday, Germany saw off the Netherlands 2-0 in the third-place play-off in Heerenveen to join Spain and France, who did so automatically as hosts, in qualifying for the Olympics.

Two second-half goals in the space of 11 minutes from Klara Buhl and Lea Schuller decided a tight game.

Germany, 2016 gold medallists in Rio de Janeiro, failed to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where Canada won the title.

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