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Despite elimination, Spain’s evolution continued at Women’s World Cup

Jorge Vilda’s clan were done in by two controversial penalties against the heavyweights of the U.S.

Spain v USA: Round Of 16 - 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France
Jennifer Hermoso of Spain in action with Julie Ertz April of USA during the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France Round Of 16 match between Spain and USA at Stade Auguste Delaune on June 24, 2019 in Reims, France.
Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

The World Cup journey for the Spain women’s national team was halted in the last 16, as they fell to a 2-1 defeat against defending champions United States.

Yet La Roja drew the attention of the whole football world and left France with their heads held high, praised for their bravery, determination and the legacy they left as the first Spain team to the make the knockouts.

Before shifting our writing to what happened during those 90 minutes in Reims, it makes sense to underline what this game meant for the spectrum of women’s football in Spain and in Europe.

Firstly, with the U.S. needing two penalties to overcome Spain, now European teams can follow the Spanish blueprint in how to defend and attack against teams as big as the States, as seven from the remaining eight participants all hail from the “Old Continent.”

Moreover, all mainstream newspapers and TV channels praised Spain for their behaviour and attitude on the field, showing that the movement is growing in the Mediterranean country. And investment in the domestic product — with more money set to come in after the successes of this past season — has paid dividends already.

Despite falling short in their bid for the ultimate prize, Spain have achieved an important goal. The ladies stamped their mark on the international scene and made a breakthrough large enough to promote their product effectively.

This is also highlighted by warm welcome that numerous supporters gave at the airport as Spain returned home from France.

Story of the game

A penalty in each half propelled the U.S. into the next round and denied Spain from achieving the unthinkable.

Coach Jorge Vilda deployed Vicky Losada in midfield to provide more attacking quality, but unfortunately the former Arsenal player had to leave the game early due to a swollen eye — culminating a very unfortunate France expedition for her after she sat out the previous fixtures.

Spain took courage from the January friendly which, despite a 1-0 U.S. win, gave the feeling that the European side was already closing its gap with the world champions.

Undoubtedly, the the North Americans did not expect Spain to be so physically tough, as they denied the likes of Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Alex Morgan from having a proper impact on the game.

An early goal — a Rapinoe penalty after Mapi León tripped Heath inside the penalty area — seemed a déjà vu for the Barcelona defender. Against Lyon in the Women’s Champions League final, Mapi’s Barça fell behind early and lost heavily. But she didn’t switch off after the penalty, and Spain remained well and alive in the game.

It seems that Jenni Hermoso read our previous piece, as (finally) she scored a PROPER goal — benefitting from a defensive mistake to curve a delightful ball past Alyssa Naeher.

Spain’s 4-3-3 formation gave the United States some difficult moments. Alexia Putellas and Nahikari García pressed high and denied fullbacks from darting forward. For the first time in a very long time, there was the sensation that the U.S. were on the brink of elimination — until a soft penalty was awarded, which Rapinoe duly buried less than 15 minutes from time.

France 2019 is over, but this team has set the movement’s development in motion. Up next, Spain will take part in the Euro 2021 qualifiers with a serious ambition to claim the ultimate prize.