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I Screamed Like a Girl

Women’s World Cup dispatch: Part 3

Luis Rubiales in 2022. Image via Flickr.

This is the third of Kathryn Winner’s 2023 Women’s World Cup dispatches. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Confidence

FOX Sports has donated considerable advertising time during the 2023 Women’s World Cup to something called The Foundation for a Better Life, a nonprofit organization that makes video public service announcements promoting positive values. At first these look like an ad for a congressional candidate or Xfinity, but at the end of each one, a word like “Gratitude” appears on the screen, followed by “pass it on” (the organization’s slogan).

In the unaccustomed hours of the very early morning, as I wait for games to kick off in Australia, one of these PSAs in particular has really freaked me out. The video for “Confidence” is a collage of stock footage-y clips of women and girls in different scenarios. First, a CGI wall crumbles, and behind it there is a little girl motioning for us to be quiet, as if she’s in some type of danger. Then a young woman in an airplane hangar turns slowly to face the camera, resting an enormous wrench on her shoulder. The worst one is the teenager running hurdles in a bright fuchsia tank top. For some reason the race is happening in a scruffy pasture instead of on a track, and the course goes through an area where there’s no grass, only deep, black mud. The girl trips and falls in the mud, and then confidently struggles to stand up again as Katy Perry sings “Roar.”

Semifinals 1: Spain v. Sweden (August 15, kickoff 3AM EST)

I did not see Salma Paralluelo’s goal for Spain in the eighty-first minute of the match because I was asleep on the couch. Several minutes earlier, Spain had come so close to scoring that the commentators yelled “goal!”—but the ball was driven into the outside of the net, causing me to pass out from certainty that the game would end in a 0­–0 tie.

I was counting on an especially loud Charles Schwab ad to wake me up before penalty kicks, but I woke up instead to thumping bass and a slow-motion replay of Paralluelo scoring a quick draw goal off a cross with less than ten minutes left on the clock.

Thrillingly, eight minutes later, Sweden equalized. The commentator cutely yelled “it’s tied!” like a toddler apprehending a gift.

One minute after that, the Spanish left back Olga Carmona scored a clinical goal off a short corner, winning the game 2­–1 for Spain.

Love the players, hate the coach

The Spanish head manager, Jorge Vilda, is an authoritarian twerp with a well-connected father and an emotionally immature hairstyle. Last year, fifteen players withdrew from consideration for Spain’s national team, partly in protest of the fact that Vilda had been enforcing a curfew by performing bed checks, requiring players to keep their hotel room doors unlocked or propped open so he could personally stick his pomaded head in and say goodnight. The players also mentioned subpar travel accommodations, a lack of trained medical staff, and poorly maintained practice facilities.

The president of the Spanish federation, the icky Luis Rubiales, responded by backing Vilda and threatening all fifteen protesting players with a 2­–5 year suspension from national soccer eligibility unless they apologized, saying that he would fill out the depleted national pool with youth players, if necessary. A monthslong conflict ensued. In the end, only three of the fifteen players who withdrew were selected for the national team. They won some administrative concessions from the Federation, including expanded medical services, but things have been visibly strained between players and management for the entire tournament.

After victories, the Spanish players have formed a huddle away from their own bench, celebrating exclusively with each other while the coaching staff trade handshakes and look on awkwardly.

When Spain’s star midfielder Alexia Putellas was subbed off the field early in the second half of the semifinal, cameras caught her assertively ignoring several of the coaching staff’s attempts to give her a high five. They stood there like losers as she made her way to the bench.

Semifinals II: Australia v. England (August 16, kickoff 5am EST)

Sam Kerr scored the most beautiful goal I’ve ever seen in Australia’s semifinal match against England. English attacking midfielder Ella Toone had scored late in the first half, plunging Matildas fans into a waking nightmare. Eternities seem to pass in Australia’s defensive third. The commentators, clearly also rooting for the Matildas, misdirected their frustration at the crowd, complaining that they were not cheering loudly enough or at the right times.

This mood persisted until early in the second half, when Kerr got the ball near mid-field. She carried it unchallenged for about twenty yards, until she was 1 v 2 outside the box. Rather than try to make it past either defender, she simply kicked the ball into the net from over thirty yards away, beating the best goalkeeper in the world (England’s Mary Earps), and causing everyone in the stadium to stand up and scream.

The most beautiful goals in soccer happen when players overcome a low statistical likelihood of success with minimal individual effort or strain. Also wonderful are the goals that come out of tricky passing combinations or virtuosic dribbling, but where I’m from these goals are celebrated with words like “filthy,” “dirty,” and “disgusting.” Of Australia’s goal we would just say beautiful.

England won the game 3­–1, advancing to play Spain in the final.

The best team wins

Left back Olga Carmona scored another game-winner for Spain in the World Cup final, making a long overlapping run down the left side of the field and nimbly tucking the ball just inside the far post. It was a hallmark example of the strength of Spain’s style of play. Their movement up and down the field is so collective and cooperative that they seem to have more players than the other team.

My little brother, who has a been a fan of Spain for as long as he has been watching soccer (since Spain’s recent quarterfinal victory over the Netherlands), says that watching Olga Carmona sprint down the sideline makes him want to believe in himself more. I had been rooting for Australia, and felt less invested in the final, but every time Salma Paralluelo did something crazy with the ball I screamed like a girl.

Just before the final whistle blew, cameras went to the Spanish bench. The subs were tearing off their pinnies and preparing to rush the field, toeing the sideline like track stars. (There was a brief shot of the English bench, too, of faces buried in hands.) When the referee finally made it official, gold confetti spilled in billows from the sky and the Spanish players threw themselves into a dogpile. An aerial shot of the field showed them as a puddle of red jerseys spreading across the grass.

Here

I wrote a new statement of apology for Luis Rubiales, the 46-year-old President of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF).

I, President Luis Rubiales of the RFEF, want to begin by thanking Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez for suggesting that I give apologizing a second try. Thank you. My original apology video was a disaster.

After Spain won the Women’s World Cup several days ago, I showed an alarming lack of restraint. I pugnaciously grabbed my crotch two seats down from Queen Letizia in the owner’s box. I kissed a player, Jenni Hermoso, on the mouth as she crossed the stage after receiving her medal. I called everybody who was upset about it “idiots” on a radio show, and then directed the communications department of the RFEF to issue a statement in Jenni’s name saying that kiss was “mutual” and a “natural gesture of affection and gratitude.” Jenni did not like the kiss. She said so on Instagram Live immediately after it happened.

Nevertheless, I asked Jenni to appear in my apology video with me so that it would look, I guess, like a joint apology from both of us. When she said no, I begged her to do it for the sake of my daughters. When she said no again, I asked Head Coach Jorge Vilda to call members of her family, and get them to persuade her to do the video. When they also said no, I had no choice but to do the video myself, so I just free associated on camera. I said my relationship with Jenni was “magnificent” and that I was only apologizing because a bunch of clueless outsiders were forcing me to. 

My deepest apologies for all of this. I regret the initial lewd boasting and forcible kissing, the subsequent false statements, the harassment of Jenni and her family, and the really bad apology video. I am very sorry for these errors. 

Signed,

Luis Rubiales


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