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Alexia Putellas snubs coach after substitution from Spain’s World Cup win

Spain's Alexia Putellas has not started her team's last two matches heading into Tuesday's World Cup semifinal. (Maja Hitij/FIFA via Getty Images)

Spain’s World Cup quarterfinal win against the Netherlands lasted 120 minutes. Spain’s star midfielder Alexia Putellas played 21 of them.

The two-time reigning Ballon d’Or winner, who is still working her way back to fitness from an ACL injury sustained last July, has averaged just 35 minutes across six matches at the 2023 World Cup. The 29-year-old received her first start of the knockout stage in Tuesday’s 2-1 semifinal win against Sweden.

While Putellas had started two matches in the group stage, she had not started either of the first two knockout matches. Ahead of the semifinal, Spain head coach Jorge Vilda did not reveal how much she would play, though he ended up including her in his starting XI.

“We are very happy with the level Alexia has reached. Since the first day of training we have noticed this,” Vilda said. “It is true that she is in the process of a recovery of nine or 10 months. We’ve adapted… and Alexia is ready for everything.”

She played for 56 minutes before being subbed off in favor of Salma Paralluelo, who ended up scoring the first goal of the match. But Putellas appeared unhappy after the substitution, refusing handshakes from the coaching staff as she walked to the bench.

After tearing her ACL days before the start of the Euros in July 2022, Putellas made her comeback in April with FC Barcelona. But she has not played a full 90 minutes since her return for club or country.

She played 61 minutes and 57 minutes in two pre-World Cup friendlies against Panama and Denmark, respectively. During the World Cup, she played 61 minutes in a 4-0 loss to Japan to close out the group stage, but she played just 35 minutes total in Spain’s next two matches before her workload increased again in the semifinal. She has one assist but no goals so far in the tournament.

“It’s hard, especially because of the media pressure she is under,” teammate Irene Paredes said before the tournament. “It’s complicated to get back to her best and everything takes time. We have to give her that.”

Even with a limited Putellas, Spain leads all World Cup teams with 17 goals so far, including three each from Aitana Bonmati, Alba Redondo and Jenni Hermoso. Bonmati, in particular, has emerged as a leader in the midfield for Spain in the absence of Putellas, her Barcelona teammate, from the starting lineup.