64 matches. 32 teams. 736 players. 3 special Catalans. 2 host countries. 1 month long. 1 trophy. Benvinguts al FIFA Women’s World Cup.
For most people, winter-time means hibernating and huddling in at home. For host nations Australia and New Zealand, this winter is all about the beautiful game and welcoming the world to play it. With an average of 3 to 4 group stage matches a day, enchanted eyes and eager ears are tuning in. And in Wellington, New Zealand, the fertile and friendly Sky Stadium opened its doors to over 23,000 spectators to watch Spain in action against Costa Rica to kick-off Group C on Friday, July 21st.
In a tournament which had not seen many goals so far, it only took 21 minutes for Spain to open their account. Unfortunately for Costa Rica, that came at the cost of an own goal which added fuel to Las Rojas’ fire. Spain showed no mercy to the Central American side; yielding in an astounding 80% ball possession, 46 (yes 46) total shots, 513 accurate passes and 22 corner kicks. The numbers don’t lie, and statistics accumulated to 3 goals for the day. And how was that accomplished? With the help of Barça Femení players of course, who aspire to be World Champions after conquering Europe. The UWCL Champions have a record-18 players representing their countries at the World Cup, with 9 of them being named in Spain’s final squad of 23 players. Below, we discuss the impact and influence of game changers like Aitana Bonmatí, Ona Batlle and ‘La Reina’ Alexia Putellas.
In the Catalan language, ‘bon mati’ refers to ‘good morning’, somewhat of a greeting. And in the case of the eccentric Aitana Bonmatí, her presence does indeed wake her opponents up. Commentators and pundits have referred to Aitana’s style of play as ‘gliding on ice’ as if she were a hockey player. A dynamic midfielder, Bonmatí dominates the game with her feet, her vision, and her fluidity. Aitana was ranked #3 in the world by The Guardian in 2022 at only 24 years of age. This year, she is front-runner for the Ballon d’Or 2023, an accolade which she may share with her Catalan counterpart Alexia Putellas.
“I will be giving my 200% to help the team at this World Cup. And as always, I’ll be out there playing the football I learned from Xavi and Iniesta. The way I like the most,” Bonmatí told The Players’ Tribune. Her performance was no less magical than the duo of Xavi & Iniesta. Aitana Bonmatí was named VISA Player of the Match for her perfomance against Costa Rica. Apart from being the first Spanish to score a goal at the World Cup, the midfield maestro also completed 56 passes with a precise accuracy of 88% and recovered possession 7 times. Bonmatí stole the show with her creativity, delivering 3 accurate long balls as well as creating 2 direct chances.
Another player who put on a show for the crowd in Wellington was Barça Femení’s latest recruit, Ona Batlle. The fullback made some heartfelt remarks about her return home, but she also expressed her ambition to Relevo heading into the game: “Playing in a World Cup is a dream and it is rare to have the privilege of playing in it, so I am going to go out there and enjoy it.” Batlle was dominant in every aspect of the game. In defense, she made 10 recoveries, 3 interceptions, 2 clearances, 2 successful tackles & won 4 duels. Additionally, Batlle was highly accurate in her passing, adding up to a total of 57 passes. Explosive as she is on the right flank, it is no surprise that she delivered 4 crosses, 3 long balls and created 3 goal-scoring opportunities; she was credited with an assist to Bonmatí which doubled Las Rojas’ lead.
Lastly, but by no means least, enters the queen. Unlike Bonmatí and Batlle who fought to elimination until the quarter-finals of the UEFA European Women’s Championship 2022, Alexia Putellas was deprived of the tournament due to a devastating ACL injury. Her absence was visibly missed, as España failed to meet expectations; Jorge Vilda’s (head coach) side did not even finish top 4 after suffering defeat at the hands of hosts England. After a long recovery, returning to club football towards the end of the 2022/23 season and dying her hair due to a bet on winning the UWCL, the pink haired pantheress is back to work at the global stage. Scoring 1 goal and securing minutes in 5 Liga F matches coming in as a substitute, Putellas is just warming up. Slowly but surely, Putellas is accumulating minutes to build-up her full potential; registering 120 minutes as a starter during Spain’s pre-world cup friendlies as well as being welcomed by a thunderous ovation for the final 15 minutes against Costa Rica. The 2022 FIFA Women’s Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or winner isn’t finished with her business yet.
To see these three Catalan challengers in action, tune into Spain’s next match vs Zambia on Wednesday, July 26th. Hem tornat.