3 Spain stars return from exile for women’s WC

Three of the 15 Spain players who made themselves unavailable for selection to the national team, including Barcelona midfielder Aitana Bonmati, have ended their nine-month exile to return for this summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Bonmati’s Barca teammate Mariona Caldentey and Manchester United‘s Ona Batlle have also been included in Jorge Vilda’s 30-person squad for a pre-tournament training camp, with the final list of 23 to be confirmed on June 30.

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There is also a return to international football for back-to-back Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, who recently came back from a 10-month injury absence.

Putellas was never officially among those who stepped away from the national team last September, although she did support their decision at the time.

Sources have told ESPN there are a variety of reasons for the absences of the remaining 12 protesting players who have not been called up for the World Cup — most notably Barca trio Sandra Panos, Mapi Leon and Patri Guijarro.

While sources say the Royal Spanish Football Federation [RFEF] have made some changes on the back of complaints regarding the working environment with the national team, some players still don’t feel enough has been done and remain unwilling to return.

Others, though, would have been willing to answer Vilda’s call but have been left out due to fitness issues or because other players have come in and earned their place on merit.

The selection saga dates back to last September when 15 players made themselves unavailable for selection saying that the environment within the national team had a detrimental effect on their emotional state and their health. The finer details of the changes they requested have always remained internal.

Among the 15 were six Barca players, including Bonmati — recently named UEFA Women’s Champions League Player of the Season — two each from Manchester City, Manchester United, Atletico Madrid and Real Sociedad as well as one from Mexican side Club America.

Without them, Spain have played nine games, winning seven, including a 2-0 victory over the United States in October, and losing just one, against World Cup co-hosts Australia in February.

Putellas, Irene Paredes and Jenni Hermoso all voiced their support for the 15 at the time but none of them ever declared themselves officially unavailable for selection.

Former Barca striker Hermoso, who now plays in Mexico with CF Pachuca, returned to the squad in February, with Barca centre-back Paredes following suit in the last international break in April.

Putellas’ case is slightly different because she has been sidelined all season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury which ruled her out of last summer’s European Championships in England.

The Barca midfielder recently returned to action in April, making six substitute appearances for the club, including a cameo in this month’s Champions League final, and has now subsequently returned to the Spain fold, too.

In total, nine players from Liga F and Champions League winners Barcelona have been included in Vilda’s initial squad, while Real Madrid are also strongly represented with eight players called up.

Spain have friendlies coming up against Panama and Denmark before kicking off their World Cup campaign against Costa Rica in Wellington, New Zealand on July 21.

La Roja then face Zambia in Auckland on July 26 before returning to Wellington to take on Japan in their final group stage game on July 31.

Under Vilda, who was the subject of some of the complaints voiced by the 15 players, Spain are looking to cement their status as one of the emerging powers in the women’s game.

They reached the quarterfinals of last summer’s Euros, where they were beaten by hosts and eventual winners England. At the previous World Cup in 2019, they were also eliminated by the eventual winners, losing 2-1 to the United States in the last 16.