CORDOVA, SPAIN: Spain’s Women’s World Cup winners were given a rapturous reception as they played for the first time at home after their triumph, thrashing Switzerland 5-0 in the Nations League on Tuesday in front of a record crowd.
Captains Alexia Putellas and Irene Paredes presented the trophy to jubilant supporters in Cordoba and the squad sported wristbands reading “It’s Over” — a nod to the charge the players are leading in the protracted battle for equality.
La Roja’s triumph in Australia and New Zealand in August was regrettably tarnished by the behavior of former Spanish football federation president Luis Rubiales, who forcibly kissed midfielder Jenni Hermoso during the medal ceremony.
The disgraced chief resigned, while controversial coach Jorge Vilda was sacked, but dozens of internationals stayed on strike, demanding further federation improvements.
Eventually the majority of new coach Montse Tome’s squad agreed to participate in the Nations League matches, despite being called up against their will, as the Spanish government intervened to broker a deal between the federation and the players.
Hermoso was not included in the squad, which Tome said was to “protect” her.
Spain beat Sweden 3-2 in Gothenburg last Friday and then crushed Switzerland to take a stranglehold on top spot in League A Group 4.
The two eventual Nations League finalists qualify for next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.
Spain earned a new record home attendance of 14,194 supporters, albeit a far cry from the 76,000 in Sydney that watched their first World Cup triumph.
“We really wanted to celebrate the World Cup with the fans, we’re proud to see the stadium full today,” said Bonmati.
Various players spoke of the anxiety and stress they suffered last week before the win over Sweden, as well as the tiredness and sleepless nights they accumulated after the World Cup, and before a deal was reached.
UEFA Women’s Player of the Year Aitana Bonmati said the situation was “calming down” before the visit of Switzerland and players were glad to focus on the football once again.
There was a party atmosphere at the Nuevo Arcangel stadium, with chants of “champions of the world” ringing out around the ground.
However, the team’s fight against sexism remained in the spotlight, as players from both sides held up a banner with the “It’s Over” slogan, used by Hermoso and other stars in the wake of the Rubiales incident.
“Our fight is the global fight,” the banner continued. World Cup runners-up England, Australia and other national teams have sent messages of support to the Spain squad over the past month, encouraging their protest action.
Spain thrashed Switzerland 5-1 in the World Cup round of 16 and dominated again from the start on a muggy Cordoba night.
Two-time Ballon d’Or winner Putellas lashed over early on, while Eva Navarro spurned two good chances.
Lucia Garcia sent La Roja ahead after Mariona Caldentey intercepted a poor pass from Switzerland goalkeeper Elvira Herzog after 15 minutes.
The unfortunate stopper was culpable again for the second goal, when she fumbled Bonmati’s soft volley from Olga Carmona’s cross over the line in first-half stoppage time.
Barcelona playmaker and World Cup player of the tournament Bonmati pounced again after the break with a higher calibre strike, steering home superbly from the edge of the box.
Inma Gabarro tapped in the fourth after Herzog spilled Athenea del Castillo’s shot into her path.
Real Madrid’s Maite Oroz saved the best for last with a sensational half-volley from outside the area which ripped into the top corner.
Spain made it clear once again that despite the toll their fight for equality is taking, on the pitch they are head and shoulders above the rest.
“The positive thing is we got over our problems, we were able to think about football, to change the focus,” Tome told reporters.
“These (games) were my debut as a coach, my first time, and I told the players I was proud I was doing it with them.
“I learned some things … and I’m sure that when I think about it, down the line, that it has been very useful.”