Spain fights back to beat Sweden in 1st match since sexism scandal broke out
GOTHENBURG, Sweden (AP) — Spain's World Cup-winning women's team got back to being soccer players on Friday.
A 3-2 victory over Sweden in Gothenburg — secured by a penalty with virtually the last kick of the game — was Spain's first match since capturing the biggest prize in women's soccer last month in Australia. That achievement ultimately was tarnished by a sexism scandal sparked by the former Spanish soccer federation president, Luis Rubiales, kissing player Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the World Cup awards ceremony.
The fallout has been far-reaching, remaining high up the global news agenda and continuing right up to the eve of the match when a deal was reached between the players, federation, and government mediators that Spain's players believe will lead to real reform inside the beleaguered federation and mark a turning point in the fight for equality.
To get to that point, the players were engaged in through-the-night meetings and constant telephone calls, all the while staying under massive external scrutiny that hardly provided the best preparation for a Nations League match against the world's top-ranked team.
Still, the Spanish showed the kind of battling qualities that have characterized the off-the-field fight against their federation by coming from behind at the Ullevi stadium, clinching the win when Mariona Caldentey converted a spot kick in the sixth minute of second-half stoppage time. The final whistle blew immediately after the resulting restart and Spain's players celebrated wildly.
"They have been difficult days for everyone," said Athenea del Castillo, who scored Spain's first goal, "but we have shown that we are a true team that wants to represent its country and that is what it is about — fighting until the end."
A 23rd-minute opener by captain Magdalena Eriksson gave Sweden the lead but Spain replied through Del Castillo's equalizer in the 37th, when her shot from outside the area squirmed out of goalkeeper Zecira Musovic's grasp and bounced into the net.
Spain went ahead in the 77th through Eva Navarro, who curled a left-footed shot into the top corner, only for Lina Hurtig to make it 2-2 five minutes later.
The penalty was awarded with seconds left of added-on time when Amanda Ilestedt pulled back Amaiur Sarriegi in the area, a foul that earned the center-back a red card.
"I told them that it is a day in which they have dignified the profession that they enjoy so much and I felt happy," newly appointed Spain coach Montse Tome said. "It has been a special debut in a complicated week, but I felt like we could use that energy and focus it on football."
Before the match, players from both teams got together and held aloft a banner containing the words "Se Acabo" — Spanish for "this is over" – followed by "Our fight is the global fight." There was applause around the stadium.
The "Se Acabo" slogan was started by Hermoso's teammate Alexia Putellas, Spain's star player, and has been a rallying call amid the scandal.
Putellas was captain for the game in a Spain team containing seven starters from the World Cup final against England. Hermoso wasn't one of them because she wasn't called up "as a way to protect her," in the words of Tome.
Spain returns to action on Tuesday against Switzerland in its first home game as world champion.
Meanwhile, three national team players have been summoned as witnesses by the judge investigating Rubiales for the kiss. The players, who were not named, are expected to testify next week.
The federation earlier Friday announced that it fired its integrity director, Miguel Garcia Caba. The announcement came a few days after it said secretary general Andreu Camps was relieved of his duties. The changes were part of the demands made by the players who boycotted the national team after the kiss by Rubiales.
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