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Spanish players, national team embroiled in dispute

(Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Fifteen players on Spain’s national team have asked not to be called up to the squad, sparking a standoff with the Spanish soccer federation (RFEF).

The federation claimed Thursday that the 15 players resigned in refusal to play under coach Jorge Vilda. but the players took issue with that characterization.

The group of players submitted identical letters this week threatening to quit if Vilda, who took over the head coaching role in 2015, was not fired, according to the federation. In contrast, the players said they asked not to be called to play for the national team until their concerns regarding their health and well-being were addressed.

“The RFEF can confirm that, throughout today, we received 15 emails from 15 players of the women’s senior soccer team… in which they state that the current situation affects ‘significantly’ their emotional state and their health and that, ‘as long as it is not reversed,’ they resign from the Spanish national team,” the Spanish FA said in a statement.

The federation took a hard line in response, declining to fire Vilda and demanding that players apologize if they want to return to the team.

“The RFEF is not going to allow the players to question the continuity of the national coach and his coaching staff, since making those decisions does not fall within their powers,” the Spanish FA said, warning players that refusing a national team call-up is classified as “very serious infraction and can carry sanctions of two and five years of disqualification.”

Tensions have been building within the national team, with the conflict coming to a head over the last month. Players contacted RFEF President Luis Rubiales and directly confronted Vilda in recent weeks, per Spanish media.

According to those reports, Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas was not among the 15 players to send a letter, but she joined other players in responding to the RFEF statement.

Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. women’s national team offered her support to the Spanish players Thursday.

The USWNT is scheduled to travel to Spain for an Oct. 11 friendly as a part of the team’s European swing.

The Spanish team’s revolt comes after a disappointing run at the Euros this past summer. Bounced by eventual champion England in the quarterfinals, Spain failed to clinch another major tournament trophy despite an influx of talent and growing expectations.

Spain is expected to be a top contender at the 2023 World Cup in Australia, though the in-team turmoil could threaten their chances of a deep run.