Denied an appearance at UEFA Women's EURO 2009 following Spain's 4-0 aggregate play-off defeat by the Netherlands, goalkeeper Ainhoa Tirapu suffered subsequent heartbreak when her country missed out on a place at the FIFA Women's World Cup, pipped to the play-offs by England.
Ignacio Quereda's side have since made up for those disappointments, however, by reaching next month's UEFA Women's EURO 2013 in dramatic style against Scotland. Speaking to UEFA.com ahead of the finals, Athletic Club No1 Ainhoa – who previously travelled to Sweden for the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship in 2002 – explained that she was "confident" in her team's chances this time around.
UEFA.com: After finishing second to Germany in the qualifying phase, Spain entered into a play-off against Scotland. What are your memories from that dramatic tie?
Ainhoa Tirapu: We already had previous play-off experience [against the Netherlands] and so we tried to go into the eliminator against Scotland in a calmer frame of mind. Against the Dutch we were very nervous and this time around didn't want to be in a position after the first leg where we were without chances of qualifying.
We ended up getting a draw [at Hampden Park] which left the tie wide open. It started to look like an uphill task in the return in Madrid but the mental strength we have gained over the past few years served us well in terms of turning things around and in the last seconds we achieved qualification. I can't remember a more epic game than that one.
UEFA.com: What was the experience like for the team in qualifying for a first finals since 1997?
Ainhoa: For those of us who have been around longer it was a case of it being about time to achieve qualification but there are other, younger players in the setup who hadn't had that feeling that it was costing us a lot of effort to advance [to a major finals]. We took things game by game this time around, all the while feeling confident with our style of play. Maybe it would have been nicer to have passed to the finals earlier but you also enjoy it after having suffered.
UEFA.com: And now it's time to face England, France and Russia in a tricky group. What do Spain have to do to advance to the quarter-finals?
Ainhoa: Personally, I think that all of the groups are tricky. Our chances will come down to trying to beat Russia and looking to draw with France or England. [A draw] against England might be the easier of the latter two objectives as we have already drawn with them in the past. Having said that, I am not a pessimist when it comes to results because in a given game anything can happen and I trust in my team.
UEFA.com: Who will be the teams to beat in this EURO?
Ainhoa: Germany are the side with most titles while France are an emerging team and one whose style of play I like a lot. Also, added to the plus of having a good squad, Sweden will be playing at home.
UEFA.com: How would you describe Spain's style of play?
Ainhoa: Physically, we can't compete against the Nordic teams so we have designed our play around quick-touches and playing on the floor. We look to try to create spaces with movement. It's a style that is in fashion these days and one that the senior men's team and FC Barcelona play. It favours our characteristics: one touch, making the ball move quickly while not depending on physicality.
UEFA.com: Do you think that coach Ignacio Quereda will trust in a similar group to that which competed in the qualifying phase or might there be a surprise in the squad?
Ainhoa: I think that the base of the team is set. There can always be a new player coming in because nobody can be assured of their place but I just hope I'm in there.
UEFA.com: After more than six years with this team, what does it mean to you to be going to Sweden?
Ainhoa: It's a dream. We've been trying to achieve qualification for so long. It means we are among the elite of European football. I've been saying for some time that my first European Championship was the Under-19s in Sweden and along with some of the other squad members, we always said it's our time to return there. We are looking forward to enjoying everything that goes with being at a EURO but above all we are going to compete. Being among the elite of European football is a prize.
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