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Spain return home from Euro 2022 with their heads held high


A real shame. Spain’s Euro 2022 run has ended at the quarter-final stage, after an extra-time defeat to the hosts, England, in a vibrant clash in Brighton. The Spaniards played really well. Better than in any of their previous games at the tournament; better than England for 80 minutes in which they were totally on top; and better than England in the second half of extra time, when Jorge Vilda’s side threw themselves at the Lionesses with a degree of energy I don’t know how they mustered. The English got through the tie thanks to some astute substitutions by their head coach, Sarina Wiegman, and above all because they switched to three at the back and pushed up their full-backs just as Spain, led by an irrepressible Athenea del Castillo, were most turning the screw.

Spain are out despite playing very well, but also because of their shortcomings in both penalty areas. England hardly gave their defence a torrid time, but they did struggle against the home players’ greater stature when dead balls were delivered into the box. And Sandro Paños hasn’t been the excellent goalkeeper we’re used to seeing at Barcelona. Leaving to one side her mistake against Germany, she simply didn’t offer the protection required of her yesterday; neither from close nor long range. And going forward, Spain’s excellent all-round play translated into too few shots. It was a joy to watch the way Aitana Bonmatí takes care of the ball; the potency of Olga Carmona and Mariona Caldentey on the left wing; the influence Sheila García had late in extra time; the collective spirit shown by the Spaniards… But their domination didn’t lead to all that much end product.

Despite exit, Euros are a triumph for the Spanish women’s game

Spain have been a pleasure to watch, though, and deserve congratulations for the Euros they have had. They got a bad draw, facing Germany in the group stage and the tournament hosts in the first knockout round. And they were missing Alexia Putellas and Jenni Hermoso. Having drawn attention to Spain’s faults, these are valid excuses that should also be noted. But even if they’ve had to settle for a last-eight finish, they’ve nailed their most fundamental brief: getting more people than ever to sit down in front of the TV, watch women’s football, and appreciate for the first time that this is the real McCoy: technical, attractive, exciting stuff. Football that contrasts favourably with some of the uglier aspects of the men’s game. No elbows, no rolling around and feigning injury, no hounding the referees. Gracias, chicas. You’ve done us proud.