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Expectation and precedent demanded very different things of Spain heading into this European Championship.
The coming force in women’s football, a team laden with the stars of Barcelona were touted as pre-tournament favourites, yet had failed to get beyond the quarter-finals in the last two Euros and have never even been that far in a World Cup.
After a challenging group stage, those facets are more closely aligned, as much as anything because of events either side of it: the ACL injury suffered by the world’s best player, Alexia Putellas, and in-form hosts England now standing between Spain and a first semi-final since their sole appearance at that stage 25 years ago.
The loss of leading goalscorer Jennifer Hermoso has been just as keenly felt, with Spain visibly blunt in their final two group games.
While their forwards have floundered and defence been prone to errors, Spain’s midfield have impressed, with Barcelona’s Aitana Bonmati (below) outstanding and club team-mate Patri Guijarro excellent alongside.
Ahead of tonight’s clash at Brighton’s Amex Stadium, Guijarro suggested being battle-hardened could help Spain against opponents who are yet to face much adversity, yet to have to come from behind.
That may prove wishful thinking, picking at a flaw that is not there, but even the suggestion shows the Spanish confidence struck by the Putellas blow and being outclassed by the Germans has gradually returned.
“I don’t think we have to adapt our game,” Guijarro added. “The best we can do is play our game, keeping the ball. It’ll be our best form of defence.”
England know what to expect. Now can Spain deliver?