In the build-up to the 2023 Women's World Cup, no nation has had more uncertainty surrounding its squad than Spain. That's because in the weeks that followed the 2022 Women's Euros, 15 members of the team withdrew from selection, six of whom would be key to a Barcelona side that lifted the Women's Champions League trophy in June.
But when Spain head coach Jorge Vilda named his provisional squad for the World Cup just 11 days after that European final, a handful of those players had returned to the fold and made themselves available for their national team again. Alexia Putellas, the two-time Ballon d'Or winner, was also back after recovering from her ACL injury.
What has the dispute been about? Which players are back and who remains away from the international scene? How will this impact Spain's Women's World Cup campaign? GOAL has everything you need to know...
- Aaron Ramsdale's time at Arsenal is over - Mikel Arteta is right to favour David Raya in pursuit of Premier League and Champions League glory
- Man City have avoided their usual slow start - but ominous form doesn't mean Premier League title race is over already
- Give Casemiro more support, let Mason Mount replace Antony and don't give up on Erik ten Hag: Six things Man Utd must do to turn their miserable season around
- Real Madrid Player of the Season 2023-24 power rankings: Every Blancos player rated as Jude Bellingham confirms his superstar status
When did 15 of Spain's players withdraw from selection?
It was on September 23, 2022, that 15 players - with the support of the injured Putellas - collectively posted a statement confirming they did not wish to be picked for the national team.
"We requested in our communication sent to the RFEF [the Spanish football federation] not to be summoned until situations that affect our emotional and personal state, our performance and, consequently, the results of the Selection and that could lead to undesirable injuries are reversed," it said.
The news came a few weeks after a number of senior figures in the team had made it known that they felt a fresh start was required after the Euros, at which Spain were eliminated in the quarter-finals by England.
"We believe that there are internal aspects that they can change," explained Barcelona defender Irene Paredes. "We would have liked it to have stayed inside but there are things that have been leaked that are not true. There are times when things have to be said, even if it is not pleasant, for them to change."
The RFEF responded to the player revolt with a statement which rejected the idea of players pressuring the association into making changes to the coaching team, claiming that the behaviour was "far from exemplary and outside the values of football and sport".
The association stated that it would "only have committed footballers" and made it clear that those who had taken the action of emailing the association would only be considered for selection again if they were to apologise.
- Getty Images
Who were the 15 players?
Manchester United (now Barcelona)
The 15 players who emailed the federation came from six different clubs, with six of them representing Spanish champions Barcelona. Putellas was injured at the time and therefore was unavailable for selection anyway but did share the same statement as the 15 at the same time.
Despite speaking about issues she felt could change, Paredes was not one of the 15 names. Jenni Hermoso, who also spoke openly about the situation, was not either, though she did share a message expressing her "unconditional support" for the 15 players in the days that followed.
Why did the 15 players withdraw from selection?
Cadena Ser reported that the emails of resignation referred to recent events within the national team that had "significantly" impacted the players' "emotional state". Much of this was reflected in the statement posted by the 15, which read as follows.
"First of all, the players are sorry about how RFEF has publicised, on a partial and biased way, a private communication that affects our health, which is part of our privacy, sent in reply to the own federation to know who of us did not want to be summoned. Communication which, by the way, has not been replied in any way.
"Secondly, in no case have we renounced the Spanish national team as RFEF points out in its official communication. As we said in our private communication, we have always maintained, we do maintain and will always maintain an indisputable commitment to the Spanish national team.
"That is why we request in our communication addressed to RFEF not to be summoned until the situations which affect our emotional and personal state, are reverted it would also affect our performance, and consequently, the results of the national team and could lead to undesirable injuries. These are the reasons that lead us to take this decision.
"We want a firm commitment for a professional project in which all aspects will be cared to get the best performance from a group of players with whom we consider more and better objectives can be achieved. We wish the best for RFEF, the women's Spanish national team, and ourselves in particular, without getting into public wars.
"We have never requested the coach's cessation as has been said. We understand that our job is not, under any circumstances, to choose somebody for that position. However, we wanted to express in a constructive and honest way what we consider can be an improvement in the performance of the group.
"Can anybody think that, eight months before the World Cup, a group of high level players, which is what we consider ourselves, are considering this decision, as it has been publicly insinuated, as a whim or blackmail?
"Requesting not to be summoned, we penalise our professional careers, our economy and of course keep on building something important in feminine football. Because getting where we are now has been lots of years of effort for a lot of people. And there are a lot of things to improve, as it has been proved recently.
"From our ambition as players, fighters and winners we just want to be able to get the most professional and personal successes. Last but not least, we are not going to tolerate the tone of immaturity with which RFEF finishes its communication.
"We are sorry that in the context of feminine sport we have to get to this length, as it has happened in other national teams and other sports historically at world level, to be able to make progress in a professional and powerful project and ambitious for the present and future generations."
What happened without those 15 players?
In the months that followed, those 15 names remained away from the national team and Vilda instead called up a wide range of young and uncapped players.
"My solution is this list," the coach said upon the announcement of his squad for the November international break. "I don't see, for now, another solution. I have to call up the players who want to be here 100 per cent."
These players came together well to produce a string of very good results. La Roja beat the world champions, the United States, in October and would lose just once in nine games without the 15 star names that had withdrawn from selection.
Two players would return in the early months of 2023 - though not from that list of 15. In February, Hermoso represented Spain for the first time since early September 2022. Two months later, Paredes did the same.
Who of the 15 players has returned for the 2023 Women's World Cup?
Position Players Goalkeepers: Cata Coll (Barcelona), Elene Lete (Real Sociedad), Misa Rodriguez (Real Madrid), Enith Salon (Valencia) Defenders: Ivana Andres (Real Madrid), Ona Batlle (Barcelona), Olga Carmona (Real Madrid), Laia Codina (Barcelona), Jana Fernandez (Barcelona), Rocio Galvez (Real Madrid), Oihane Hernandez (Athletic Club), Irene Paredes (Barcelona) Midfielders: Teresa Abelleira (Real Madrid), Fiamma Benitez (Valencia), Aitana Bonmati (Barcelona), Marta Cardona (Atletico Madrid), Sheila Garcia (Atletico Madrid), Irene Guerrero (Atletico Madrid), Maite Oroz (Real Madrid), Maria Perez (Barcelona), Alexia Putellas (Barcelona), Claudia Zornoza (Real Madrid) Forwards: Mariona Caldentey (Barcelona), Athenea del Castillo (Real Madrid), Inmaculada Gabarro (Sevilla), Esther Gonzalez (Real Madrid), Jennifer Hermoso (Pachuca), Alba Redondo (Levante), Eva Navarro (Atletico Madrid), Salma Paralluelo (Barcelona)
The most significant changes to the Spain squad came in June, though, when Vilda announced his provisional list for the 2023 Women's World Cup. It saw three of the 15 names who had previously withdrawn from selection make their returns, in Bonmati, Caldentey and Batlle. Putellas was also back having recovered from her ACL injury.
However, 12 names stayed away, including four members of the Barca side that had just helped the club to a second Women's Champions League title - Panos, Leon, Pina and, the player of the match in the final, Guijarro.
“I will not be at the World Cup and it saddens me. I have earned to be there," Leon told RAC1 in late May. "It's not a decision taken lightly, but Mapi Leon has a way of life and values. I can't return if I don't see changes, and what has been there is insufficient."
What impact could the absentees have on Spain at the 2023 Women's World Cup?
With 10 of the 12 players who have stayed away having been part of Spain's Euro 2022 squad, the final 23 to represent La Roja at this summer's Women's World Cup will be very different.
Those absentees will have a big impact on the team's starting line-up, too. Panos, Leon and Guijarro - as goalkeeper, centre-back and holding midfielder - formed crucial parts of the spine of the team that reached the quarter-finals in England and are among the best in the world in their respective positions.
Spain open up their World Cup campaign against Costa Rica on July 21, a day after the tournament gets underway as a whole. Games with Zambia, on July 26, and Japan, on July 31, will follow.
Should they progress from the group stages, Spain will take on a team from Group A in the last 16 - one of co-hosts New Zealand, Norway, Philippines or Switzerland.