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FORGED IN FIRE | Turmoil makes Spain stronger, better

Spain's head coach Jorge Vilda celebrates his team's win in the Australia and New Zealand 2023 Women's World Cup semi-final football match between Spain and Sweden at Eden Park in Auckland on August 15, 2023. (Photo by Saeed KHAN / AFP)

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AFP) — Coach Jorge Vilda said the turmoil that had threatened to torpedo Spain’s Women’s World Cup “made all of us stronger” after they beat Sweden, 2-1, on Tuesday to reach the final for the first time.

Spain’s preparations were thrown into disarray in September last year when 15 players sent an email to their football federation saying they did not want to be considered for selection.

Their protest was aimed chiefly at Vilda and his methods, including complaints that he was too strict.

Vilda held on to his job and only Mariona Caldentey, Aitana Bonmati and Ona Batlle were among the rebels who ended up returning for the tournament in Australia and New Zealand.

Others including Barcelona stars Mapi Leon and Patri Guijarro stuck to their positions and are missing from the squad.

“The support of Luis Rubiales, the president of the federation, and everyone at the federation, means so much and will always stay with me, as well as that of my family because they have suffered this year,” said Vilda after Olga Carmona’s late goal secured a dramatic 2-1 win at Eden Park in Auckland.

“At the end of the day it has been a learning process, and I think it has made all of us stronger.”

“Now we can file it away and put it behind us and think about the future and think that we deserve to be where we are.”

The match was drifting towards extra time before substitute Salma Paralluelo put Spain ahead with nine minutes remaining.

Sweden equalized through Rebecka Blomqvist’s 88th-minute goal, only for captain Carmona to produce a stunning winner 60 seconds later.

Spain, which had never previously won a knockout tie at a Women’s World Cup before this year, now awaits the winner of the second semifinal between Australia and England.

“Everyone involved in Spanish football deserves this, all those who have been working so hard for so many years, from the players to the clubs and to the federation,” said the 42-year-old Vilda, who became Spain coach in 2015.

“I am proud of the team, we are so happy, but we have a final ahead of us still. Tomorrow we go to Sydney and we want to win.”

The final is on Sunday at Stadium Australia in Sydney.

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