With three goals and two assists each, attacking midfielder Aitana Bonmati and forward Jennifer Hermoso have strong claims to be Spain’s best players at this Women’s World Cup.
However, equally tireless but arguably more functional has been Teresa Abelleira.
The 23-year-old has been metronomic in her passing and mature in her positioning, providing the platform for La Roja to reach Sunday’s final against England.
Abelleira can certainly contribute the spectacular as well — witness her 25-yarder in the 5-0 group-stage win over Zambia — and she has actually sent in more crosses than any of her teammates.
Composure on the ball, courage in central midfield, and foresight — perhaps that all plays a part in Abelleira also being one of the most visible of Spain’s lesbian players.
Her Real Madrid teammate Ivana Andres — who married wife Anabel last summer — is also on Outsports’ list of publicly out World Cup participants, with Barcelona’s Irene Paredes and Levante attacker Alba Redondo the other two in that section.
Back in 2019, Abelleira was playing for Deportivo La Coruna in her native Galicia when she was targeted with homophobic abuse for sharing images of her relationship online. She was still a teenager at the time.
Yet she confronted the discrimination head-on in an interview with a local paper, and tweeted: “Unfortunately there are still people who don’t see it for what it is, something NATURAL. All people deserve to be FREE, HAPPY and WITHOUT FEAR of anything.”
Gracias a ti por darle visibilidad a un tema que por desgracia todavía hay gente que no lo ve como lo que es, algo NATURAL.— Teresa Abelleira (@teresabelleira) October 10, 2019
Todas las personas merecen ser LIBRES, FELICES y SIN MIEDO a nada. ❤️ https://t.co/SFBPmzbTZ1
Abelleira would go on to make her international debut the following year, a few months after her switch to Real. Her career has taken off but she still believes in the power of visibility.
In an interview with Spanish daily ABC last week, she was asked to give her view on why lesbian relationships have become accepted in women’s soccer but gay relationships are rarely if ever seen in the men’s game.
“Women expose ourselves to more social pressure for many things and perhaps that makes us stronger, more liberal,” replied Abelleira.
“I hope it changes, and that people can express themselves as they are — how beautiful and how much happier we will all be.
“When someone with more social exposure brings up topics that are a bit taboo, people feel more represented and that’s also good.”
España Sáfica is a social media account and website that discusses lesbian history in Spain and puts developments in the country’s LGBTQ community in a historical context.
Its author is heartened by Abelleira’s advocacy and the visibility of the other out players in the squad. She shared her thoughts with Outsports, requesting personal anonymity.
“Abelleira’s comments may help some younger women come out of the closet,” she wrote, when asked about their significance.
“We have a huge issue in Spain where many lesbians are going back into the closet. A major reason for that is the associations with pornography, which is brutal.
“But knowing that there are elite footballers who will support young lesbians is good — it can encourage them to play more.”
A history of the women's football in Spain & its lesbian connections... because that trophy is coming home to Spain so I can get my photo taken with it. :D#WomensWorldCup2023 #womensfootball #FIFAWomensWorldCup2023 pic.twitter.com/hwQXfAfr8V— España Sáfica (@espanasafica) August 18, 2023
However, España Sáfica is less optimistic about the broader future of fútbol femenino, as women’s soccer is called in Spain.
These issues have become better known by way of this World Cup. The focus has been on Jorge Vilda, who lost the services of so many Spain players last October following complaints they leveled against their head coach in a letter to the federation, the RFEF.
Vilda has been backed by his bosses, who will likely feel vindicated and emboldened by the run to the final. Bonmati is one of only three members of “Las 15,” as the rebels came to be known, who ended up in Vilda’s World Cup squad.
But the mutiny provoked by his approach, said to be authoritarian and repressive, is nowhere near to being resolved. He was clearly snubbed by several players during the celebrations that followed the semifinal win over Sweden.
España Sáfica writes: “The big issue here is using the tournament to get the government to invest in and better support women’s professional sports.
“We need a government that puts more pressure on the RFEF to stop sexism. We never had anything like Title IX in the USA to help grow women’s sport. That is probably the bigger visibility issue for lesbians.”
The political situation in Spain is “complex”, she adds, with the recent growing influence of the far-right party Vox a huge concern for groups advocating for people who are LGTB, as the initialism is written in Spain.
There were sighs of relief when Vox delivered a poor performance in the recent general election. Infighting has ensued.
Now the population turns to its TV screens on Sunday to see if their women’s team can bring World Cup glory to Spain. For that to happen, you would think Abelleira has to be in the ascendancy in that midfield battle.
Whatever the result, her visibility alongside that of her other out teammates is undoubtedly “important” in its own way, says España Sáfica.
“We need to show that football doesn’t make women into lesbians. This is still the common narrative here,” she says.
“We also need to show that being gay or lesbian is fine and normal. And we also need a lot more support for women’s football in Spain.”