According to Spain midfielder Silvia Meseguer, her country's presence at UEFA Women's EURO 2013 – where they begin their campaign against England on Friday – represents a "step forward for Spanish women's football".
Displaying a humility that has become a part of the Spain set-up at all levels in both the men's and women's game, Meseguer was taking nothing for granted when coach Ignacio Quereda revealed his squad for the finals last weekend. "Of course I want to be there, but you never know because there are some very good players in Spain," the recent Club Atlético de Madrid acquisition explained as the announcement loomed. "Until I see my name on the list, I won't feel in any way certain."
She need not have worried. Having played a crucial role in Spain's qualifying campaign – in which she featured in all ten group games plus both play-off meetings with Scotland – there was little chance of her missing out. And having come through that dramatic play-off tie with a 3-2 extra-time win in the second leg, Meseguer feels her side will quickly make themselves at home on Swedish soil.
"We went into the return leg feeling good about our chances as we had done well [to earn a draw] in Scotland," she said. "In fact, we could have even achieved a better result. We were all confident we would be there in Sweden. It seemed like destiny then, when you look at the return game at home and how everything seemed to be against us yet somehow we came back to get through."
The former RCD Espanyol player is nonetheless well aware of the stern challenge awaiting her side in Group C. After travelling to the Linköping Arena on 12 July to tackle England – against whom Meseguer made her debut in 2008 – Spain conclude the section with encounters against one of the tournament favourites, France, and then a strong Russia lineup.
"The French are a complete team; they've got everything," she said. "They play with the ball to feet and they have some of the best players in Europe, the majority of whom play for Olympique Lyonnais. They will be the most difficult rivals for us.
"We've played a lot against England in the past and they have always finished ahead of us in qualifying. Russia, meanwhile, are physically very strong and that will make things difficult for us. Maybe things are that much more difficult for them when they are in possession, but they do close up well at the back."
As for Spain's own strengths, Meseguer has noticed a growth in self-belief, the Iberian hopefuls having progressed since narrowly missing out on UEFA Women's EURO 2009 – they lost to the Netherlands in a play-off – and the FIFA Women's World Cup two years later. "The truth is that the players haven't changed a lot from those qualifying campaigns," the holding player said. "But what's true is that this time we believed and gathered sufficient confidence to take that final step."
The 24-year-old – who has won the Copa de la Reina three times and twice finished a Liga runner-up – is now expecting her side to "take things on a game-by-game basis" as they get ready for their campaign. "The important thing is that we start well," the student of medicine at the University of Barcelona explained. "We will have to be at our very best in every game in order to gain confidence. Let's see if we can qualify for the next phase."
Perhaps most importantly, though, Meseguer realises that merely being present at the tournament represents so much for the future of the sport back home. After all, this will be Spain's first appearance at these finals since 1997 and only the second in their history. "It's a way of consolidating [our reputation] in Europe: to say 'We are there,'" she added. "What's more, it's a step forward for Spanish women's football. We are on the right path now and we must look to remain on it."
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