Jorge Vilda in uneasy spotlight before Spain’s World Cup semi-final against Sweden

One of the most-loved sides, Spain’s run at the Women’s World Cup has been a triumph in spite of its chequered preparation.

La Roja have reached the last four with displays of beautiful pass-heavy and possession football, staying true to the country’s signature style.

But before it arrived in New Zealand for the trans-Tasman tournament, Spain was rocked by a player mutiny that threatened its lead-up.

In September 2022, after Spain wrapped up its World Cup qualification campaign with a perfect eight wins without conceding a goal, more than a dozen players announced they would stand down from national duties.

Coach Jorge Vilda had lost the dressing room. His response was not to stand down, or win his players back, but to move on without them.

Conciliatory talks have led to three players among ‘Las 15’ to turn out at the World Cup: Aitana Bonmati, Mariona Caldentey and Ona Batlle.

The others have not been considered, including Barcelona’s two-time Champions League winners Patri Guijarro and Mapi Leon.

The dispute is opaque, though much of the reporting points to player issues with training, facilities, and low levels of support from the federation and coach Vilda, described by some as too authoritarian.

Vilda has stonewalled questions on the matter throughout the World Cup, and since as long ago as October, when he travelled to New Zealand for the Women’s World Cup draw.

The issue came up again on the eve of Spain’s biggest match in a generation: Its clash with Sweden in Auckland to reach the final of the Women’s World Cup.

After taking advice from his media adviser, Vilda sighed and responded as he’d done many times prior.

“You’re asking about the past,” he told a press conference.

“I would like to indicate the backing and the support from the president … a president who is reacting with courage.

“He put his trust in me.

“We are happy with the whole process, and have great unity.”

Spain has closed ranks over the matter, with players also declining to dig into issues during the campaign.

However, there is plainly mistrust towards Vilda, as evidenced in the aftermath of their quarter-final win when players are seen snubbing their coach to celebrate together rather than with him.

It seems likely more truth may emerge from the spat after Spain is done at the tournament, but with the strength and depth of their gifted generation having been clearly shown, that could well be after they emerge from the final as champions.


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