Women's Euro 2022: With two major injuries, can pre-tournament dark horse Spain still dazzle?

    Can Spain still go far at Euro 2022 without Alexia Putellas and Jenni Hermoso?

    (CNN)Spain arrived in England for Euro 2022 tipped by many as a contender to win the tournament.

    The national team's ascent from also-ran to ever-present in major competitions over the past decade has been one of the more remarkable rises on the women's international stage.
    Euro 2022 was supposed to showcase how a burgeoning domestic league, historic payment agreement and dedicated youth system culminated in Spain, who qualified for the tournament undefeated, becoming an international force.
      In the opener against Finland, Spain impressed in a 4-1 victory but Tuesday's clash of the behemoths, when La Roja faces Germany in Group B, will be a sterner test for a team without two of the world's best players.
        On the eve of the tournament, Spain was dealt its second major blow in as many weeks. After it was announced in June that all-time top scorer Jenni Hermoso would miss Euro 2022 with a knee injury, La Roja was then given the crushing news on July 5 that totemic midfielder Alexia Putellas had ruptured her left anterior cruciate ligament.
        It's difficult to overstate just how important Putellas is to this team: a prolific goalscorer, mercurial playmaker and a player with the individual genius to single-handedly win any game.
        Spain will now have to try and compete without two of the best players in the world, with Putellas and Hermoso coming first and second respectively in the Ballon d'Or standings in 2021.
          "Alexia, it's very strong to say it, but she is everything," Amalia Fra, a football expert for Spanish sports newspaper AS, told CNN Sport. "She is the whole team because she's like a compass in the middle of the pitch which is distributing and moves the opposing team.
          "On top of that ... she goes up and makes herself a No. 9 and scores a goal for you. She makes it so the entire play of La Roja is based on her, but we mustn't underappreciate the rest of the team because we have amazing central defenders; Mapi León and Irene Paredes are among the best in the world.
          Alexia Putellas will miss out on Euro 2022 after rupturing her ACL.
          "In midfield, Aitana [Bonmatí] and Patri [Guijarro] are also the best and her game with them, with whom she plays every day at Barça, makes the team flow."
          Now, in the absence of Putellas and Hermoso, it will be up to the likes of Paredes, León, Bonmatí and Guijarro to lead Spain's women to their first major international trophy.

          'Exponential growth'

          Prior to the 2015 World Cup in Canada, Spanish women's football was unrecognizable to the standard it sets today.
          Fra recalled players having to travel hundreds of kilometers each day for training and said any form of nutrition plan was non-existent.
          "It was after the 2015 World Cup, which was the first time that Spain qualified for the World Cup, when Spain really began to commit to women's football and the players began to be professionals," Fra said.
          "They began to receive financial allowances and then they [the federation] also bet on creating a more powerful league and professionalizing it, which we would almost say is something unprecedented.
          Spain crashed out of the 2015 World Cup, finishing bottom of its group.
          "From then on, there has been an exponential growth of the team in terms of players, physique, resources, and even of the fact that the players, as the national team coach Jorge Vilda said, are now professionals and can make a living from this."
          Back in early 2020, the players in the women's first division struck a historic league-wide agreement that guaranteed every footballer an annual salary.