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Sleeping giants Spain awakening in time to test USWNT

  • September 10, 2019
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La Roja are a prime example of team growing in stature as investment and interest ramps up in the women’s game across Europe

Spain, which will face the United States on Monday in its first World Cup knockout match, has always been something of a sleeping giant in the women’s game.

The country is mad for soccer and contains the infrastructure, finances, coaching and facilities to build a women’s powerhouse, as it has done on the men’s side for decades.

While it was dormant for a long period, recently, the giant has finally started to wake up.

The USWNT will be heavily favored to defeat Spain in the last-16 game at Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims, but the gap between the sides is closing at breakneck pace.

In many ways, Spain is the embodiment of the principal threat to the USWNT’s dominance: an established power on the men’s side that is opening its eyes to the women’s game like never before.

“You can see that these teams are catching up,” U.S. defender Ali Krieger said. “It goes to show you how good countries can become in the women’s game.”

Spain is part of a trend at this World Cup, alongside Italy and the Netherlands, of traditional men’s powers starting to break through on the women’s side.

“You’ve seen this with Holland, you’ve seen this with Italy, it’s a matter of time,” U.S. manager Jill Ellis said.

“It’s a natural progression in terms of the development in these countries because they eat, sleep and breathe soccer.”

Spain has seen its growth happen from the bottom up. La Roja have made major strides at the youth level in recent years, having won the U-17 World Cup last year and finished as runner-up at the U-20 World Cup.

Several of those U-20 players have been integrated into a senior team that is participating in only its second World Cup, having made its debut at the competition in 2015.

“Spain’s women’s program has gotten increasingly better throughout the years,” U.S. defender Kelley O’Hara said.

“I think these are examples that FIFA and federations need to look at to see that if you do invest the time, you do invest the money, you will get results.”

As its women’s team continues to rise, Spain is indeed poised to invest to ensure that ascent continues.

Last week, Spain’s football federation general secretary Andreu Camps announced an investment of more than €20 million into the women’s game next season, including a plan to show club games on TV and stream them online.

And just this Saturday, Real Madrid finally announced that it would be fielding a women’s side for the first time in the 2019-20 season.

Developments like these are especially encouraging for Ellis, who grew up in England during a time where women’s soccer was barely even an afterthought, and went to the U.S. to seek out a career in the women’s game.

“I had to leave my home country to go experience the game,” Ellis said. “Now it’s delightful that these countries are now actively supporting women’s football.

“As a fan of the game and as someone who grew up in a time where it wasn’t that way in Europe, I think it’s great to see.”

Spain has yet to really impress at this World Cup and should it defeat the U.S. on Monday, it would be one of the all-time great women’s soccer upsets. But there will come a time, maybe soon, when a Spain win over the U.S. may feel just as routine as it does on the men’s side.


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