According to the bookies, there’s one team you should put your money on at the Women’s European Championship this summer: Spain.
The hotly anticipated tournament in England gets underway in July are Jorge Vilda’s side are red-hot favourites.
They scored 48 goals in qualifying, conceding just one, and haven’t lost any of their last 21 matches – winning 18 of them – in a record that stretches back to early 2020, before the coronavirus outbreak. They also beat Australia 7-0 in their last warm-up.
La Roja have Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas in their ranks, the DNA of world-class club side Barcelona throughout their squad and a ‘Golden Generation’ of players coming through.
But the talismanic Jennifer Hermoso is out injured, manager Vilda has spoken about the damaging weight of expectation on the side ahead of the competition, and they kick off in the ‘Group of Death’ alongside Germany – who they have never beaten.
So can they finally deliver major tournament success? Below, Sportsmail takes a deep dive into the Spain team and assesses their chances at the Euros next month.
Spain are the odds-on favourites to win the upcoming Women’s European Championship next month – with Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas (pictured) set to shine for Jorge Vilda’s side
But with star player Jenni Hermoso (above) injured, can the ‘Golden Generation’ finally deliver?
Red-hot form in qualification
The history books are not in their favour. They’ve only qualified for four Euro tournaments (including this one) since the first ever in 1984, reaching the semi-finals in 1997 and the quarter-finals in the last two, exiting on penalties against Austria in 2017.
Their World Cup pedigree is no great shakes either, having reached the group stage in 2015, and the round of 16 in 2019.
That said, their qualification record for tournaments in recent times is much improved.
- How they qualified: Group D winners – unbeaten (P8, W7, D1, L0)
- Qualifying goals for: 48
- Qualifying goals against: 1
- Unbeaten run: 21 games
- Best Women’s Euro result: Semi-finals
- Last Women’s Euro result: Quarter-finals
- Fun fact: Qualified for their fifth major tournament in a row despite only contesting their first in 2013
- Key player: Alexia Putellas
- Coach: Jorge Vilda
Moreover, Barcelona – which supplies 10 of the 23 players in the final squad are one of the best women’s sides in the world.
The Catalan side won the Champions League final the season before last in 2020-21 – the first time a Spanish team has ever won the women’s Champions League – and have reached three of the last four finals in that tournament.
That confidence was translated into their qualifying campaign, where they plundered 48 goals at an average of six per game and conceded just one goal in all of those games.
The most eye-catching results included a dominant 13-0 win against Azerbaijan and a 10-0 thrashing of Moldova.
Overall, they haven’t lost any of their last 21 matches – winning 18 of them – in a record that stretches back to early 2020, before the coronavirus outbreak.
Oh, and they have conceded just two goals during that run over the last two-and-a-bit years. Two!
At the Arnold Clark Cup in February – considered a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the Euros – Spain drew against England and Germany and beat Canada, eventually losing out on goal difference against Sarina Wiegman’s side.
Finland midfielder Iina Salmi, who plays for Valencia, said: ‘Spain has a great team with very good players. We would have to do everything perfectly if we want to beat them (in the group stage).
‘In Spain you play very fast, with a lot of intensity and giving a lot of importance to the technique of the players. The league has a high level and any team can give you a fight.’
The 2020-2021 Champions League winners Barcelona (pictured above) – which supplies 10 of the 23 players in the squad – are one of the best women’s club sides in the world
JORGE VILDA’S 23-PLAYER SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Sandra Panos (Barcelona), Lola Gallardo (Atletico Madrid), Misa Rodriguez (Real Madrid).
Defenders: Irene Paredes (captain, Barcelona), Mapi Leon (Barcelona), Leila Ouahabi (Man City), Andrea Pereira (Barcelona), Ivana Andres (Real Madrid), Ona Batlle (Man Utd), Laia Aleixandri (Man City), Olga Carmona (Real Madrid), Sheila Garcia (Atletico Madrid).
Midfielders: Alexia Putellas (Barcelona), Mariona Caldentey (Barcelona), Patri Guijarro (Barcelona), Aitana Bonmati (Barcelona), Irene Guerrero (Atletico Madrid).
Forwards: Lucia Garcia (Athletic Club), Esther Gonzalez (Real Madrid), Marta Cardona (Real Madrid), Athenea del Castillo (Real Madrid), Claudia Pina (Barcelona), Salma Paralluelo* (Villarreal).
*Paralluelo withdrew due to injury, she is yet to be replaced at the time of writing
Historic times for Spain
One of the biggest clubs on the planet in Real Madrid finally got an official women’s side in 2020. That, allied to widespread professionalisation in Spain and Barcelona’s success, means these are historic times for Spanish women’s football.
Atletico Madrid, Levante, Athletic Club, Real Sociedad and Granadilla Tenerife are all getting stronger, youth academies are thriving and the standard of the Primera Division is rising.
Spain’s RFEF governing body, the equivalent of the English FA, announced in June they had introduced a five-year scheme of financial equality between the men and women’s teams in terms of the percentage of bonuses, travel and imaging rights.
They will not necessarily receive the same amount, just the same percentage, and El Comercio has reported the discrepancy between what the women will earn at the Euros remains ‘light years away’ from what the men will earn in the same competition.
It’s also some way off the roughly £52,000 earned by each German player at this year’s tournament; only the American team has complete equality between the men and women’s sides currently. But it’s still a necessary and significant first step.
Captain Irene Paredes said: ‘It’s a historic day. On behalf of all the players, I want to thank the RFEF and especially (RFEF president) Luis Rubiales for their effort to reach such an important agreement and demonstrate with actions his interest in continuing to push our senior team far as possible.’
That confidence, positivity and progress has been replicated at national level. The current ‘Golden Generation’ has both plenty of experience and the young stars ready to carry the torch in future. There is a feeling this is their moment.
RFEF president Luis Rubiales has introduced a five-year scheme of financial equality between the men and women’s teams, in terms of the percentage of bonuses, travel and imaging rights
But questions over Vilda
Jorge Vilda has been in charge since 2015, graduating to the senior side after managing the Under 17s to Euros victory in 2010 and 2011.
He knows the squad extremely well and guided them to second place in the 2020 SheBelieves Cup, but Spain’s record in major tournaments doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny compared to the level of the players.
If the Euros don’t match up to the expectations – semi-finals minimum, maybe – Vilda may come under pressure given the wealth of talent available. And the 40-year-old has insisted the hype and expectation of being potential winners is damaging.
He told Marca: ‘The confidence is maximum, but the whole (hype) created I think is not the most convenient to perform. We are realistic and there are teams that (we) have never beaten in history, such as Germany, France or Sweden.
‘Very high expectations have been generated during this season, I have felt it in every way, and it is not positive, it is something that I have not experienced in football. I have not experienced that demand that there is.
‘So much has been demanded of a team without having won anything yet. It is given to us as champions or in the final and the pressure that is being put on the players is not normal. My job is to keep our feet on the ground. We accept the challenge but we know that flattery can weaken us. I want us to be focused.’
Spain manager Vilda (pictured) has said the expectation around the team could be damaging
Ballon d’Or winner in their ranks
Ballon d’Or holder Alexia Putellas is in the form of her life right now and, on 98 caps, the most in her country’s history in women’s football, is likely to reach her century during the tournament.
The Barcelona skipper may not be an out-and-out striker but she still poses a real threat in front of goal for Spain.
She occupies the No 10 position for both club and country but has scored a wealth of goals from that position, with 17 goals in 19 outings last season, her impressive performances leading to the prestigious Ballon d’Or award.
However, Putellas has experienced somewhat of a goal drought on the international stage – having only scored one tournament goal, which came five years ago when she found the back of the net for Spain during the 2013 Euros.
Despite that, the gifted and creative attacking midfielder has the adhesive close control, creativity and vision to unlock the sternest defences and her metronomic passing dictates the team’s rhythm.
Put simply, everything goes through her, and if Putellas is on it Spain have a great chance of going deep into the tournament.
Former Barcelona head coach Lluis Cortes said: ‘Alexia is a player who you can always speak to about everything in the game, because she understands the game very well.
‘I always said to the players, if you don’t know what to do with the ball, pass to Alexia and she will know. She is able to make the best decisions every time.’
Alexia Putellas may not be an out and out striker but she still poses a real threat in front of goal
But no Jennifer Hermoso
Talisman Hermoso is a massive loss.
Jennifer, no relation to Atletico Madrid and Spain defender Mario Hermoso, is the second-most capped player in the national team’s history on 91, and is far and away the country’s all-time top scorer on 45 – the nearest current player is Putellas on 26.
Putellas aside, she brings more than half as many goals as the rest of the other 22 players in the squad combined (87).
The 32-year-old, who left Barcelona for Mexican side Pachuca this summer, came second in this year’s Ballon d’Or behind her compatriot and has been present for four of her country’s five major tournaments. That experience would have been vital.
Ones to watch?
The all-Barcelona midfield of Patricia Guijarro, Aitana Bonmati and Putellas is probably the most technically gifted in the world, while another Barca duo in skipper Paredes and Maria Pilar Leon will be a tough centre-back partnership to crack.
Bonmati, especially, is one of the brightest prospects from the country.
Another to watch is 20-year-old Barcelona forward Claudia Pina, who became Barcelona’s youngest ever player when she made her debut aged just 16 and has since then more than held her own in one of the best teams in the world.
Spanish wonderkid Claudia Pina could star in a Spain side without the injured Jenni Hermoso
Pina, who can play in midfield or attack, scored 14 goals and made 11 assists in just 24 games last season. She has found it difficult to break into a competitive Spain side, with four caps, but the absence of Hermoso may provide her an opportunity.
Manchester United full-back Ona Batlle, 23, was named in the PFA WSL Team of the Year and is also an exciting player to watch down the right flank.
How is the group shaping up?
After thrashing Australia 7-0 (seven-nil!) in their first warm-up match on June 26 in Huelva, Spain, they travel to Italy for a clash with the Azzurre on July 1 before the tournament proper gets underway.
They open the Euros tournament against Finland, likely the weakest team in Group B, before playing fellow heavyweights Germany and 2017 runners-up Denmark, all within four days of each other.
Spain thrashed Australia 7-0 in their first warm-up match on June 26 in Huelva, Spain
The Germany encounter could be make or break for their ambitions of progressing into the business end of the tournament. Germany are enduring their longest period without a title since they won the first of their record eight European crowns in 1989.
They were knocked out of the quarter-finals of the 2017 Euros and the 2019 World Cup, but boss Martina Voss-Tecklenburg will hope her experience of winning this competition four times rubs off on her players.
Spain have never beaten Germany – and a first win over them could see Spain take control of a tricky group, which has been labelled the ‘Group of Death’ – and it is easy to see why. And if they go through, things will only get tougher…
If England are Group A runners-up, they could face Spain in the knockout rounds and the run to the final would be extremely tricky. But with Putellas to the fore, Vilda and fans across Spain will hope this year is finally the year they deliver on their promise.