Portugal's proximity to Spain, in geographical and footballing terms, means words like revenge and rivalry abound in conversation ahead of the sides' UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship semi-final. But, insists Mónica Mendes, all José Paisana's charges are interested in is doing themselves justice – something the defender has been doing for a while now.
Ever-present during Equipa das Quinas' qualifying campaign, Mendes made her most telling contribution in the last of her 540 minutes of action. Drawing 1-1 with Belgium, she headed in a dramatic winner as Portugal pipped Norway to a finals spot. The United States-based defender has been just as pivotal in southern Turkey, helping her side advance from the group stage.
Being at a European Championship is a dream for any player. We're incredibly proud to be here representing our country and showcasing the talent Portugal has," she told UEFA.com, before turning attentions to Wednesday's semi with fancied Spain. "We just want to show what we can do, so if we beat them it won't be about revenge [for last month's UEFA EURO 2012 defeat by La Roja at this stage] or anything like that. It would just be another great achievement."
Team-mate Mélissa Gomes, another dependable fixture throughout this historic campaign, made a similar assessment but added that the opponents may suit them better than Denmark, who beat them 1-0 last time out. "
Spain have got some good players and play nice football, but we've got to try and find a way to match them," said the 18-year-old forward, born in France to Portuguese parents. "It's going to be a game of very similar styles, not like against Denmark, who were very big and strong."
Gomes and Mendes are both becoming accustomed to getting to grips with whatever they find on the pitch. Gomes is on the books at French league runners-up FCF Juvisy Essonne, while Mendes is in the midst of a short spell at DC United before returning to the University of Texas, where she studies Sports Science – not that she suffers delusions of grandeur. "Me being over there doesn't make me any better or important than any of the other girls here," said the 19-year-old.
"It's true that I've made a path for myself abroad but what really fills you with pride is playing for your country at tournaments like this. It's really satisfying to show that even though we're a small nation we can achieve great things."
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