AUCKLAND, New Zealand — On July 26, for the first time in 431 days, Alexia Putellas started a competitive soccer game. The back-to-back Ballon d’Or winner completed 45 minutes as Spain thrashed Zambia 5-0 at Eden Park after recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament injury earlier this year.
Putellas, 29, had come off the bench to a warm welcome in Wellington five days earlier as La Roja beat Costa Rica 3-0 in their Women’s World Cup opener. Against Zambia, the midfielder was named in the starting XI and provided moments to suggest she could make an impact at this tournament, including netting Jennifer Hermoso’s second goal with a perfectly arched cross.
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But those hopes were dashed when Spain succumbed 4-0 to a clinical Japanese side on Monday. Putellas finished an hour but, like many of her teammates, was unable to break through a well-drilled Japanese backline and proved unable to stop their effective transitions. Futoshi Ikeda’s side scored with all three attacks in the first half, in the final third for just 27 seconds. By comparison, Spain spent more than five minutes passing the ball into Japan’s final third in the same time frame.
Spain will be hoping the minutes accumulated in the group stage will help their star player return to her best form as they prepare for Saturday’s round of 16 against Switzerland at Eden Park on Saturday.
Putellas is a midfielder who can do it all. She continues the game but she also creates and above all has the gift of scoring goals. For Barcelona in 2021-22, she has scored 34 times in 42 games, including 11 in 10 in the Champions League. The previous season, she scored 26 times. These figures earned him the nickname The Queen (The Queen) and these are publicity images of Putellas who replaced Lionel Messi in some of Barcelona’s main advertising spots when the Argentine striker left the club for PSG in 2021. His face also adorned the Spotify Camp Nou facade before the start of the renovation work. this summer.
She is attracting such interest across the country that radio shows previously reserved for men’s football are now offering opinions on her future, with her contract ending in 2024. Her deal was already in the works.
So normally the build-up to Spain’s third final appearance would have been dominated by talk of whether Putellas is ready to take his national team to the next level, as she did with Barcelona in the course of the last four years. Instead, the focus has been on his fitness. Putellas suffered an ACL injury last July and missed Euro 2022 in England. It may have happened at the height of his career and, in scenes shown in a documentary titled “Alexia: Work Omnia VincitLate last year, she told her then agent that she doubted she would ever return to the top level of the game.
For most of the past season, she has been on the sidelines and her return to action has been treated with extreme caution. She started training in March but it wasn’t until April 30 that she returned to the pitch and came on as a substitute in Barca’s last six games after 10 months away. She has played just over 100 minutes for her club in total, including a few as a Blaugrana beat Wolfsburg in the Champions League final in June. More minutes followed for Spain. She played for an hour in pre-World Cup friendly wins over Panama and Denmark, scoring against the former, but hasn’t completed 90 minutes in over a year.
Leaving nothing to chance, she has worked closely with her personal physio Adrian Martinez Castro, who has previously worked with Arthur Melo and Bojan Krkic, and articulates with the Barca and Spain medical teams. She’s also self-aware enough to know that even though she’s been named the best player in the world two years in a row, she can still learn from others. His Barca team-mate and England international Lucy Bronze – who also suffered from a serious knee injury – says Putellas is the player who has asked him for the most advice since joining Manchester City last summer.
“I told him what happened to my knees and how it’s still a problem these days,” Bronze told ESPN. “Sharing stories and experiences helps others and maybe helps her understand her own knee a little better.
“I went through all of that in my 20s and still managed to get to the top of my game. She’s already at the top of her game, so she can come back when this injury is over, put herself even more up, doing even more, pushing herself even more and maybe learning a little bit about herself that she wouldn’t have learned if she hadn’t been hurt.”
Still, alarm bells rang when Spain arrived in New Zealand when they trained on their own. Sources told ESPN that was still the plan after the long trip, given his injury, but that hasn’t stopped players and coaches from being asked about Putellas’ readiness for the biggest event on the women’s football calendar.
“If she’s there, it’s because she’s 100%,” became the common response from teammates at media events.
Putellas had time to work his way to the World Cup. Playing a major role in this tournament, however, is what she has been working towards since sitting out Euro 2022, where Spain were narrowly beaten in the quarter-finals by the hosts and winners. possible, England.
Marsden: Putellas availability increases significantly for Spain
Sam Marsden believes the availability of Alexis Putellas for the World Cup opener in Spain will give his side a big boost after earlier concerns over his fitness.
Despite support from the 15 Spanish players who made themselves unavailable last September in protest over terms with the national team – only three of the 15 have returned to the squad for the World Cup, with key players Mapi Leon and Patri Guijarro among those who withdrew. — Putellas did not send the e-mail withdrawing from the selection. She says it’s because she was injured and not selectable anyway, but sources said with the World Cup approaching and after missing the Euros she didn’t want to close any door too hastily.
The World Cup is the biggest showcase there is and international honors are the only thing missing from Putellas’ trophy. She hates losing (friends say she takes days to react to defeats) and last season, despite Barca winning a La Liga F and Champions League double, was difficult for her. She remained around the first team during her rehabilitation; she was present at home games, when fans chanted her name in the 11th minute of every match – No.11 is what she wears; she even made the Champions League final and lifted the trophy as club captain. But sources say while she was delighted with the team’s success, she is desperate to end a difficult season by making her mark at the World Cup.
This is Putellas’ third participation in a World Cup final. She was part of the Spain team that left the competition in the group stage in 2015 and then in the United States in the round of 16 in 2019. On no occasion was she to be one of the stars of the tournament. That she is this time around is proof of her hard work, ambition and attention to detail. After the 2019 Champions League final loss to Lyon, she says she doubled her workload and improved her habits off the pitch. Since then, the Catalan side have won four league titles and two Champions Leagues, recorded a 64-game unbeaten streak in Liga F and broke the women’s football attendance record twice.
“For me, 95% of my life decisions depend on whether or not my performance improves,” Putellas said in the aforementioned documentary. “It’s never enough. Earn more, train more…I want to be the best in the world.”
Helping Spain bounce back from their first four-goal defeat since 2012 at this summer’s World Cup, however, could be their biggest challenge yet.