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La Roja set up historic Women’s World Cup clash

Jorge Vilda’s women won just one group game, but dominated possession and confirmed their progression.

China PR v Spain: Group B - 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France
Jennifer Hermoso of Spain is faced by Peng Han and Yan Wang of China during the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France group B match between China PR and Spain at Stade Oceane on June 17, 2019 in Le Havre, France.
Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images

The Spanish women’s national team managed to overcome the World Cup group stage hurdle and secure a last 16 berth for the first time after they managed a second place finish in Group B.

Spain were picked to face debutants South Africa, former world champions Germany and a once-heavyweight China side.

Vilda’s team were heading toward a shock loss in the opening match, as Spain trailed by one goal until 20 minutes from time. That was when Atlético Madrid’s own Jenni Hermoso opened her World Cup account from the spot before Spain marched on to victory.

As expected, against the Germans it was a tough ask for the Spanish to salvage at least a point — even though they had their chances there and then in a 1-0 loss.

That left the team’s qualification hinging on the final day, with at least a point needed to move into the next round — a goalless stalemate saw both China and Spain advance.

La Roja have drawn plaudits from experts and followers of this tournament due to their impeccable ball possession, yet with one concern — that possession has 99% of the time led to nothing. They’ve only scored three goals, two from penalties, and all from one game.

The United States — the defending champions — await Spain in the last 16. Before that highly-anticipated match kicks off on Monday, let’s have a look at the Spaniards’ key figures and talking points.

Vilda’s rotations

The 37-year-old Spain coach has utilised 19 of his 23 players thus far in this French expedition. Hermoso, Irene Paredes, Mapi León, Virginia Torrecilla and Marta Corredera have played all 270 minutes to this point. On the other hand, the players who are yet to grace the field in this World Cup are goalkeepers Lola Gallardo and Sun Quiñones together with defenders Andrea Pereira and Ivana Andrés.

Vilda knows that he can bank on several quality players in his roster, even though this is not a highly-experienced team when it comes to the World Cup. It feels that the coach is trying to deploy a team that could spark the game into life through possession rather than counterattacking.

In all three games, Vilda opted for three different starting XIs, which saw the team shift from a 4-5-1 shape to a 4-2-3-1 shape — but with similar outcomes on the scoreline.

In addition, this tactical revolution also saw experienced players like Silvia Meseguer, Alexia Putellas and Marta Torrejón drop to the bench against China.

Hermoso needs (proper) goals

The Spanish women’s league top scorer was hailed as one of the biggest stars to play in this year’s tournament, but Hermoso is yet to score a goal from open play. Even though she has two goals under her belt in France, both arrived from the penalty spot against South Africa.

One issue would be the fact that the Atlético Femenino striker sometimes drops out of the penalty box to receive the ball from the flanks, which causes Spain to lose a poacher from inside the area.

On the other hand, sometimes Hermoso struggles to receive proper distribution from her teammates which is another issue which Spain need to work on in order to maximise their potential outside of this tournament, starting with the 2021 European Championship qualifications.

Patricia Guijarro returns

This France adventure provided some great news from the Spanish camp as promising youngster Patricia Guijarro was declared healthy and available after a previous injury almost dashed her World Cup dreams.

The Barcelona player, who won the Golden Ball and Golden Boot at the U-20’s Women’s World Cup last summer, is part of the youth crop that Vilda called up for France. This also includes Aitana Bonmati, Lucia García and Nahikari Garcia.