Raquel Pinel scored the latest in a series of key goals on Wednesday as Spain edged past Portugal and through to the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship final. At the weekend she hopes to continue another habit: winning major international honours.
Ángel Vilda's tiring side were flagging against their Iberian rivals, with the prospect of the additional 30 minutes looming large, when second-half substitute Pinel popped up with the most timely of goals. "No player likes to start on the bench but once you find out you're going to be there you set your mind to it, prepare yourself mentally," the 17-year-old told UEFA.com. "A lot of times you have the chance to come on and make an impact."
She certainly did, and though the striker stressed that all she had to do was "stick it in the net", Pinel's ability to pop up in the right place at the right time seems more than coincidence. After a torrid start to last season her club side, Valencia Féminas CF, looked relegation certainties before a run of seven wins in 15 matches saw them rise Phoenix-like. Pinel, of course, scored the decisive goal that took them clear of the flames. "You do what you can," she says with mock heroism.
Pinel is one of 12 players in Spain's squad who featured in at least one of La Rojita's back-to-back UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship triumphs in 2010 and 2011. That experience, she thinks, could give Vilda's charges the edge against Sweden. "We have a good idea of how to handle the occasion. In last year's final, for example, we didn't score until the end, but never got desperate, despite playing against a tough team in France. We need to do the same on Saturday, to play with that composure."
That composure, with the ball at your feet or not, is drilled into these girls in the national-team setup. The emphasis in training is on a high-tempo game of pressing and slick passing; the emphasis in matches is to repeat what they do in training. That will certainly be the aim against Sweden on Saturday. "We have to hold onto the ball and move them around, drag them out of position and make space behind the defence," said Pinel. "They're really good in the air so there's no point playing long balls."
Indeed, the disparity in build between the sides is stark. Sweden are "physically incredible" says Pinel, tall and powerful; they tower over dextrous, diminutive Spain but, as Sunday's 0-0 draw emphasised, there is little to choose between them on the pitch. "From the group phase we know just how strong Sweden are," Pinel mused, "but so are we." And so, when she is needed most, is Spain's No9.
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