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2019 Women's World Cup team previews: Spain

A world power on the men's side, Spain's women's team has made a ton of progress over the past decade and enters France 2019 at what is arguably its highest point. Spain is back for its second straight and second-ever World Cup and will be keen to improve on a 20th-place finish in 2015. Its unbeaten qualifying campaign suggests the team is well-equipped to do just that, led by prolific Atletico Madrid striker Jennifer Hermoso.

How they got here

Spain qualified for France in impressive fashion, going a perfect 8-0-0 in UEFA Qualification Group 7 against group mates Austria, Finland, Serbia and Israel. Jorge Vilda's club scored 25 goals and conceded only two in eight games, with the team's plus-23 goal differential the third-best mark during  European qualification.

Strengths/Weaknesses

Spain's stingy defense was the biggest story during qualification as La Roja gave up just two goals in eight games. Led by Irene Paredes and Ivana Andres, Spain is organized defensively. Another strength of this unit is cohesion, as 10 of the 23 players on their preliminary roster play club football together at Barcelona.

Spain is extremely reliant on Jennifer Hermoso for offense, as the 29-year-old scored or assisted on 16 of the nation's 25 goals during qualifying. It doesn't help the team that 2018 under-20 World Cup best player and top scorer Patricia Guijarro is a question mark with a foot injury. Spain's attacking options are a little thin. Spain needs some players to step up and support Hermoso, as the talented striker will not be able to do it all alone on this big of a stage.

Money Stat: 8-0-0

Spain was the only European nation to amass the maximum 24 points available in qualification. Spain's 8-0-0 record was massively impressive, especially when you consider powers such as Germany and England even dropped points along the way. Spain is a nation on the rise in women's soccer and its youth hints the team is here to stay.

Players to Watch

Spain's top player is striker Hermoso, who amassed a team-best seven goals and six assists during qualifying. Hermoso, who plays her club football for Atletico Madrid, will be appearing in her second World Cup and boasts an impressive 27 goals in 65 caps for Spain.

Key game

Spain likely will find itself in a battle for second place with China, and the final group match against the Chinese will likely determine whether La Roja progresses. Spain will be expected to beat South Africa in its opener but will be underdogs against group favorites Germany, meaning the China clash could have massive stakes.

Local Feedback

"We can face anyone. We have a team of prepared players and staff to get as far as possible. We are a family and look to progress. The stars are the 23 players who are going to run onto the pitch in search of a win." -- Vilda after announcing his 23-person preliminary roster

Prediction

Spain is starting to build something special and, as its 2018 under-17 World Cup title and 2018 U20 runners-up medals show, the best is yet to come. Spain's impressive qualification was no fluke and look for the team to build on that momentum and finish second in Group B behind Germany. Reaching the knockout stages would be a massive success, and Vilda's group has the talent and defensive shape to make that a reality in 2019.

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