Silver medals and a hero's welcome for Spain's handball stars

Marta López and Sole (centre) received a warm welcome at Malaga train station.
Marta López and Sole (centre) received a warm welcome at Malaga train station. / Migue Fernández
  • Las Guerreras returned from Japan with their heads held high after a last-gasp defeat to the Netherlands in the World Championship Final

They may have lost, but you wouldn't know it from the smiles on the faces of the Spanish women's handball team, who received a hero's welcome on their triumphant return home this week after losing 29-30 to the Netherlands in the World Championship Final.

They were received at the Moncloa palace by acting prime minister Pedro Sánchez in recognition of having exceeded all expectations, only defeated in the last minute by a dubious refereeing decision.

The showpiece final in Japan on Sunday was initially dominated by Spain, with Shandy Barbosa, Mireya González and Lara González all getting on the scoresheet early through counterattacks punishing their rivals' careless use of the ball. The Dutch recovered, however, and went in at half-time with a 13-16 lead.

Spain fought back in the second half, despite the constant danger of Abbingh, and the Malaga-born Sole and Marta López played important roles in Spain's recovery. With minutes to go, Spain were trailing their opponents, Wester having made an incredible save to deny Shandy. She could do nothing, however, to stop Marta López when she ran through and levelled matters after the Netherlands had been dispossessed.

There was one more twist in the tale, however. After an error by Shandy, Wester tried to get the ball moving quickly, but Ainhoa Hernández blocked the ball. The referees did not hesitate in sending Hernández off and awarding the Netherlands a penalty in the dying embers of the game. Abbingh converted to give her country the title.

Despite this late heartbreak, Las Guerreras, or 'warriors' as they are known, can be proud of their achievements. During their run to the final, Spain suffered just one defeat and one draw, against Russia and Sweden, respectively. They qualified second in their group, which put them into the semi-finals, where they beat Norway - a team who eliminated them in the 2011 edition of the tournament in Brazil, where Spain won bronze - to secure their passage to the final against the Netherlands.

Local heroes

Pride was certainly the dominant emotion on Tuesday when the two local heroes of the team, Marta López and Sole, arrived at María Zambrano train station in Malaga.

Around a hundred family members, friends, as well as handball fans from across the province gathered to give them a worthy homecoming, brandishing flags and singing songs.

Sole, who appeared at a World Championship for the first time, told SUR on Wednesday: "All the hard work was worth it. I just hope that it serves as an example to all the young players out there that if you work for it, your dreams can come true."