Spain’s men’s team visit Georgia on Friday aiming to correct a poor start to their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign, with the Luis Rubiales scandal overshadowing their preparations.
The suspended president of the Spanish football federation (RFEF) has not resigned from his post despite unprecedented world pressure to do so, after he planted an unsolicited kiss on the lips of women’s team midfielder Jenni Hermoso.
The women’s team emerged triumphant in Sydney on August 20 to win the World Cup for the first time, while in June the men’s side secured their first UEFA Nations League victory.
With a strong 2030 men’s World Cup bid underway, this should be a time of celebration for Spanish football, but Rubiales has ensured the opposite is true.
The 46-year-old’s kiss on Hermoso’s lips has turned Spanish football upside-down, with 81 players on strike from the women’s team.
Only one — Real Betis forward Borja Iglesias — has stepped away from the men’s side, but they are far from unaffected by the situation, despite their best efforts.
The RFEF apologised Tuesday for the outrage over two weeks after the incident happened, also sacking controversial women’s coach Jorge Vilda.
Interim federation president Pedro Rocha said they would keep faith in Spain’s men’s coach Luis de la Fuente, despite his applause of a defiant Rubiales speech in which he said he would not resign.
De la Fuente, 62, fielded nearly half-an-hour of questions about his applause when he appeared at a news conference last week to name his squad for the Euro 2024 qualifiers against Georgia and Cyprus.
“I have been criticised harshly for it. I believe that criticism was deserved, I understand it and I apologise, it was unjustifiable,” said De la Fuente.
He blamed the “stress” of the situation for his applause and said he was convinced Rubiales was going to resign.
“When you look and you see yourself on the cameras… I didn’t recognise myself,” he added.
The coach called up 16-year-old Barcelona starlet Lamine Yamal, who could become Spain’s youngest ever player, but understandably the focus remained on the Rubiales scandal.
Spain’s captains spoke out on Monday, condemning Rubiales in a statement read out by striker Alvaro Morata, although it ended with a plea to let the team focus on football, provoking further criticism.
With Hermoso filing a criminal complaint against Rubiales on Wednesday, the fallout continues to rumble on ahead of Spain’s match in Tbilisi.
La Roja are fourth in the group, nine points behind leaders Scotland, who beat them in Glasgow, although De la Fuente’s side have played two fewer matches.
The coach was a surprise replacement for Luis Enrique in December after the Qatar 2022 World Cup, with Rubiales looking within the federation to replace the former Barcelona man.
Defeat by Scotland put him under pressure quickly, but Spain’s Nations League triumph in Rotterdam calmed the waters around him, before the Rubiales storm hit.
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