MADRID: Spain’s ambitions of a breakthrough on the women’s international stage at Euro 2022 have been rocked by a sickening knee injury to reigning Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas.
The Barcelona midfielder was expected to be one of the shining lights of the tournament until she ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament in training on Tuesday.
Spain had been pre-tournament favorites with the bookmakers thanks to the rise of Barca as a dominant force of the club game.
However, Putellas is the second key player ruled out in a matter of weeks after all-time top goalscorer Jennifer Hermoso also suffered a knee injury.
“23 Alexias....for one dream,” Spanish sports daily Marca splashed across their front page on Wednesday with a picture of the remaining squad members.
But there is no sugar-coating how devastating a blow to Spain’s chances losing Putellas is.
The 28-year-old has become a icon at the Camp Nou with 90,000 chanting her name during Barca’s Champions League win over Real Madrid earlier this year that broke the world record for attendance at a women’s match.
“Yesterday was the day to accept it,” said Putellas’ club and international teammate Patricia Guijarro on Wednesday.
“We are desperate to get started and now we are triply determined.”
Guijarro is one of nine Barcelona players still in the squad.
Barca Femeni cruised to the Spanish title last season with 30 wins out of 30, scoring 159 goals and conceding just 11.
They also made the Champions League final, although missed out on retaining the trophy, and a treble, after being pipped in the final by Lyon.
The question remains whether the rise of the Catalan giants could launch Spain in a similar fashion to when Pep Guardiola’s Barca laid the platform for the men’s Spanish side to win two Euros in 2008 and 2012, as well as the World Cup in between.
“We are players who have been together for many years, we know each other very well,” said Leila Ouahabi, who has just left Barca for a move to Manchester City.
“We have a lot of understanding, it is good and positive to have that connection with those teammates that you have been getting to know closely for years.”
Irene Paredes and Mapi Leon will still form arguably the most distinguished defensive pairing in the tournament.
Guijarro and Aitana Bonmati’s presence mean Spain will also still have one of the most talented midfields despite Putellas’ injury.
But there is little time for La Roja to lick their wounds as they find themselves in the group of death alongside eight-time winners Germany, 2017 finalists Denmark and Finland.
It is 25 years since Spain last reached even the semifinals at a Women’s Euro, while at the World Cup, their best performance was when they went out to the United States in the last 16 three years ago.
Now they have to handle the weight of huge expectation as well as the loss of their biggest name.
“It seems that if we don’t win or get knocked out, it’ll be a drama,” said Leon.
“From the outside there is unnecessary pressure. Inside the squad, everything is super-positive and everyone is really looking forward to the tournament, but it’s not easy.”