AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Spain is just one win away from the Women’s World Cup final, less than a year after more than a dozen players staged a mutiny and stepped away from the team.
La Roja will face Sweden in a semifinal match on Tuesday at Auckland’s Eden Park, with the winner advancing to play either England or co-host Australia in the championship match.
It is just the third time Spain has played in the tournament and the furthest it has advanced. La Roja reached the knockout round four years ago in France but they were eliminated by the eventual champion U.S. team. The only other time Spain has reached the final four at a major tournament was the 1997 Euros.
Spain’s success this time comes despite a turbulent recent history. Last September, 15 players signed letters that said they were withdrawing from the national team to protect their emotional health and called on the Spanish federation to commit to a more professional environment. The players insisted they did not ask for coach Jorge Vilda’s dismissal.
Jennifer Hermoso was not among the those who protested but she did support her colleagues on a social media post. On Monday the Barcelona forward shrugged off a question about the conflict.
“I’m here today, I’m very happy,” Hermoso said. “I hope to continue making history with my team.”
Vilda, who has coached La Roja since 2015, was ultimately backed by the federation in the conflict. In the run-up to the World Cup, there appeared to be at least some reconciliation: Three of the 15 players who stepped down were on the roster.
Vilda maintains there is “great unity” within the team at the World Cup.
Captain Ivana Andres said the players have a “very good relationship with our coach.”
“We are a team. We all win, we all lose,” Andres said, “and we all have the same responsibility,”
Spain secured a spot in the semifinals with a 2-1 quarterfinal win in extra time over 2019 runner-up Netherlands. Two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas went on as a substitute again as she continued to return from an ACL tear just sustained before the European Championship last July.
She also appeared as a substitute in six matches for club Barcelona in the Champions League, lifting the trophy as captain after a 3-2 victory over Wolfsburg in June.
Putellas, who has 28 goals in 102 appearances for Spain, is considered among the best players in the world and has led Spain’s climb on the national stage. Vilda said the team is pleased with her recovery.
“Alexia is ready for anything,” Vilda said.
Spain, No. 6 in the FIFA global rankings, was considered among the favorites going into the tournament despite the turmoil last fall. Hermoso, Aitana Bonmati and Alba Redondo lead the team with three goals apiece.
The Swedes advanced by knocking off previously undefeated Japan 2-1 in the quarterfinals. Japan won the 2011 World Cup title and was last remaining past champion left in the tournament.
Before that, Sweden eliminated the two-time defending champion United States on penalties in the Round of 16 for the Americans’ earliest exit ever.
The Swedes were runners-up at the World Cup in 2003 and they’ve finished in third place three times, but they’ve never won soccer’s biggest trophy. Two years ago Sweden lost to Canada in the gold-medal match at the Tokyo Olympics.
“I’m particularly pleased with how we’ve come this far, the way we’ve done it, the way we’ve won our matches in different ways. And it shows the breadth of this team and that games can pass out very differently, but at the end of the day, it’s the result that counts,” midfielder Kosovare Asllani said. And so experience, as far as I’m concerned, could be a key tomorrow. But right now we’re just raring to go. Really looking forward to the game very much.”
Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson said forward Sofia Jakobsson had “mild symptoms of an illness” but he hoped to have her available for the match.
Spain and Sweden have never met in the Women’s World Cup — Spain didn’t even qualify for the first six tournaments — but played to a 1-1 draw last October in a friendly in Cordoba, Spain.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/fifa-womens-world-cup