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Esther scores & assists vs. Hungary; Weir displays defensive grit vs. Netherlands

In total, 8 Madridistas featured across two games.

Spain v Hungary: Group B - FIFA Women’s WorldCup 2023 Qualifier Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Netherlands 2-1 Scotland

By: Yash Thakur

Scotland faced off vs. the Netherlands in a friendly to get ready for the final round of European qualifiers for the FIFA WWC 2023. Netherlands were playing their first game under new manager Andries Jonker.

Scotland lined up in a 4-3-3 on paper which was more of a 4-2-3-1 in practice with Arthur and Cuthbert forming the double pivot while Caroline Weir, who was captaining the side, playing in a #10 role. Her role was similar in essence to her role at Madrid.

Netherlands were also in their 4-2-3-1 formation with Vivianne Miedema, Jill Roord, Danielle Van de Donk and Renate Jansen forming the front four.

Netherlands started on the front foot, forcing turnovers in midfield with their pressing front four blocking the central option and forcing Scotland into wide areas. Weir regularly offered herself deep to receive and then help progress the ball and play through the opposition press.

Scotland were lining up in a 4-4-2 low/mid block with Weir making up the front two. The Dutch, however, found it easy to dismantle their block with quick combinations either on the wide or central areas. This is how Netherlands scored their opener. In the 10th minute, a quick combination between Roord and Spitse allowed the former to receive in between the lines and then play the ball to Van de Donk, who passed it to Miedema to finish the job.

Scotland responded immediately with a goal of their own with some good direct play. They targeted the space in behind former Arsenal defender, Janssen. Kelly Clark, who was playing as the RB, played a great ball from the deep in behind for Claire Emslie to run onto and finish. It was an excellent ball and a very good finish.

This direct approach was the main ways Scotland looked to create danger throughout the game.

Weir was able to showcase her ability to retain possession while under pressure and helped her side move out of their own third. The Dutch kept attacking and hit the crossbar from a header by Miedema, who was brilliant at dropping off deep before turning and running at defenders.

In the 35th minute, Scotland were forced into an early change. Chloe Arthur was replaced by Fiona Brown and this prompted them to operate in a 442 even in possession. This also forced a role change for Weir, who was now operating besides Erin Cuthbert in the double pivot.

This role change did allow Scotland to retain some possession but progressing into the final third was still a struggle.

The 2nd half played out along the same lines. Weir’s defensive work-rate was fantastic as she was helping recover possession in her own third and made clearances in the box as well. Her ability to turn away from pressure and break through it, resulted in a shooting opportunity from open play for Scotland in the 66th minute. From a deeper role, she was able to showcase her distribution from her left foot, targeting the space in behind Janssen with her long balls.

Weir was able to showcase her quality from dead-ball situations as well. Her good delivery from a set-piece prompted the Dutch goalkeeper to step out of her line to block the impending shot from close range. It was a captain’s performance from Weir who played multiple roles during the game and offered a lot of value in various phases of play.

Caroline Weir was subbed off in the 87th minute and was replaced by Lucy Graham. Netherlands went into the lead via a transition attack in the 88th minute. The initial shot in the box took a deflection off of a sliding Erin Cuthbert and looped over. The Scottish goalkeeper only managed to tip it to the crossbar but the rebound was bundled home from 2 yards by Fenna Kalma.

The Orange Lionesses were threatening all game and hit the post twice. They outshot Scotland 20-7 and had 55% of the possession. This was their first game under newly appointed manager Andries Jonker and there were some encouraging signs for the future.

Scotland will now face Faroe Islands in the last FIFA WWC qualifier on 6th of September, looking to grab that play-off spot and follow up their 2019 FIFA WWC appearance with another one.

Spain 3-0 Hungary

By: Om Arvind

Spain vs. Hungary was no normal World Cup Qualifier, for it played out under the backdrop of an incredibly tense context in the Spanish camp. Just yesterday, coach Jorge Vilda and the three captains, Irene Paredes, Patri Guijarro, and Jenni Hermoso, spoke in a press conference to address rumors that the squad had asked for Vilda’s resignation. Vilda took his unlimited time to defend himself while Irene, Patri, and Jenni were given less than 10 minutes to answer four questions.

Not a whole lot was clarified in that period. Irene asserted that the players had not directly asked for Vilda to be sacked, but simply that there needed to be changes and improvements. Left unaddressed were the persistent whispers that the squad was united in their decision until Vilda held one-on-one meetings with players, upon which some got intimidated and backed out.

If the dressing room had become as fractured as the media reports (there has been an interesting focus on a supposed division between the Real Madrid and Barcelona camps), it is then notable that no players showed up for Vilda’s portion of the press conference but all arrived when Irene and the others spoke. Furthermore, any doubt on where superstar Alexia Putellas stood was immediately dismissed by a social media post soon after.

It is important to understand these events within the context of the RFEF’s history of negligence and abuse in regard to the Spanish women’s national team. For the longest time, they employed and protected coach Ignacio Queredo, whose sexist, racist, homophobic, controlling, and bullying behavior was recently laid out in the documentary ‘Romper el Silencio.’

After the players came together and forced Quereda out in 2015, the RFEF chose Vilda as his replacement. While it appears as if Vilda has been an improvement on his predecessor’s character, he retaliated against the leaders of the coup and ensured that their national team careers came to an abrupt end. When the documentary asked Vilda to speak on the matter, he declined.

Vilda has also possessed strange agendas against certain players. For example, Damaris Egurrola, one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, had been repeatedly frozen out of selections to the point that she ended up declaring for the Netherlands. This appeared to be retaliation for Damaris’ resistance to being called up for the U-23’s on one occasion.

All of this baggage comes on top of the widely-held perception that Vilda is incompetent and under-qualified for his position (he got his initial role with the youth teams because his dad trained with them). From a tactical perspective, he is certainly far from perfect.

So, in a way, the events from the last couple of days aren’t that surprising (in fact, they feel somewhat inevitable), just as it isn’t surprising that the RFEF have fully backed Vilda. Thus, the situation remained thoroughly unresolved going into Spain’s match vs. Hungary. In light of that fact, it was remarkable just how standard the game ended up being.

Vilda still started Paredes and Patri and Spain still coolly dominated vs. an inferior opponent, racking up enough chances to win by way more than 3-0.

Esther González received a number of early opportunities, one of which led to a collision that left goalkeeper Barbara Bíró bloodied and bruised.

Eventually, Esther slotted home and put Spain in the lead thanks to a brilliant pass from Patri, who was the best performer on the night.

Esther nabbed an assist as well, flicking on a corner to set up Irene Paredes.

The other Madridistas (Misa, Ivana, Olga, Teresa, Zornoza, and Athenea) all looked good. Zornoza and Olga, in particular, played off of Mariona’s dropping movements well, leading to lots of threatening overlapping runs from Olga. Meanwhile, Athenea was her usual spritely self, constantly having a go 1v1 and exciting onlookers.

Most importantly, she set up Patri, who made it 3-0 in the 74th minute with a bomb from distance, closing out the show.

The one negative for Spain occurred in the first half, when Mariona tried to protect the ball and twisted her ankle. She was in loads of pain and ended up being subbed off at the break.

Spain play Ukraine next on September 6th.

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