Soccer-Swedes find solace in solidarity despite loss to Spain


Soccer Football - UEFA Women's Nations League - Group D - Sweden v Spain - Gamla Ullevi, Gothenburg, Sweden - September 22, 2023 Sweden's Lina Hurtig celebrates scoring their second goal with Madelen Janogy Bjorn Larsson Rosvall/TT News Agency via REUTERS

GOTHENBURG, Sweden (Reuters) - Spanish and Swedish players got together ahead of Friday night's Nations League clash to send a strong message that although some changes may have taken place after a turbulent few weeks in women's football, the struggle is far from over.

Spain's players eked out a 3-2 win thanks to a late penalty and though the result will be an important one in terms of the outcome of the Nations League and Olympic qualifying, many of the Swedish players felt that showing support was just as vital.

"It's not just their fight, it's the whole world's fight, so we wanted to show that we stand behind them," Sweden captain Kosovare Asllani told Reuters.

Now at Italian side AC Milan, Asllani spent three years at Real Madrid and she embraced former team mate Teresa Abelleira after the final whistle.

"I have a lot of good friends in the team and we discussed what they're going through. What we said will stay between us, but they were grateful for our support and that we stand behind them. It's a matter of course for us," Asllani said.

The two teams came together before kickoff, holding up a banner with the words "Our fight is the global fight" and the hashtag #SeAcabo ('It's over' in Spanish) that has become a mantra of those calling for change.

The Spanish team's long-simmering row with the country's association reached boiling point when former Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales planted a kiss on the lips of player Jennie Hermoso after they won the World Cup final in August.

EXPRESSION OF POWER

For Rubiales, the kiss was a gesture of affection and celebration; for Hermoso and many other female players, it was an expression of power and who holds it in the women's game.

"First and foremost, all these people have to be removed, the ones who aren't allowing for equality in their federations," Asllani said.

"In Spain it was so clear and obvious with what happened, but this is something that many national teams go through - they weren't the first and they definitely won't be the last."

Despite the resignation of Rubiales and that of team coach Jorge Vilda, the game in Gothenburg almost did not take place, with dozens of Spanish players saying that they did not want to be called up to a squad still governed by structures that had caused a number of them to boycott the World Cup.

Long discussions and crisis meetings saw 21 of the original 23 players make the journey to Sweden, and the Swedes were quick to inform the Spaniards that they would support their opponents if they wished to stage some sort of protest.

"The process was that we communicated through (players' union) FIFPro, and we said clearly that if they wanted to do something, we wanted to support it," Sweden defender Magda Eriksson told Reuters.

That show of support did not extend beyond the kickoff, and once the game got underway, it was time for Eriksson and her team mates to put thoughts of solidarity aside.

"We started playing the game, and them I'm Magda the football player and then I want to win and I want to be tough and go for tackles and everything," the 30-year-old said with a wry smile.

"We're all human and we wanted to show our support and our empathy with the players, but when the whistle blows, it's game on."

FAN SUPPORT

Swedish fans in the stands showed their support for the Spaniards, hanging banners and applauding them as they warmed up, but they were not impressed by the concession of a late penalty that saw their visitors go home with a win.

The Swedish players were disappointed to lose the game, but ultimately the show of solidarity with their Spanish counterparts meant that they could at least take something positive from the game, even if the fight is far from over.

"There's a lot of federations at the moment where the players are speaking up, I think we're not done until every federation treats their players with respect, and the respect that they deserve," Eriksson said.

"I think we have to continue this fight until every player feels that they are treated in the way that they want to be treated."

(Reporting by Philip O'Connor)

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