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Spain's Paños eager to vanquish painful memories

For the second successive season Spain will go into the final group game knowing only victory will be enough – captain Sandra Paños is hoping for a better outcome this time around.

Spain goalkeeper Sandra Paños poses at tournament headquarters in Cervia
Spain goalkeeper Sandra Paños poses at tournament headquarters in Cervia ©Sportsfile

For the second successive season Spain will go into the final group game at the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship knowing only victory will be enough – captain now as she was then, Sandra Paños is hoping for a better outcome this time around.

"I hope everything goes absolutely perfectly so we're not forced to re-live last year," said the goalkeeper, the 2-0 defeat by the Netherlands in Skopje still all too raw. "It's a different tournament and we have a very different group so we have to focus on the present, forget the past. This squad is very motivated to go one step further. Last year we also had a very strong team and should have gone further than we did – I don't want what happened then to happen again."

There is cause for optimism. When Ángel Vilda's charges met the Oranje in their Group B opener this time round they were marginally the better team in a 1-1 draw, following that up with an impressive performance versus Germany, albeit in a 1-0 loss. "We felt good against Germany," said Paños. "There weren't many saves for me to make because the defence was working overtime. In the end a minor lapse decided the match and of course that's a bit upsetting.

"But it means nothing now and, in fact, even a draw would have made no difference. We would still have gone into the Norway final needing to win." The Norway final – it is what Paños calls Sunday's meeting in Forli throughout our 20-minute conversation. And really, it is. Barring an incredible result from the Netherlands against Germany the scenario is simple: win and Spain advance and seal a FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup place; anything else and Norway do.

"This group is really hungry. There are players who couldn't get here because of injuries or exams and in a way we want to win it for them, those who aren't here, as much as those of us who are." Playmaker Amanda Sampedro is chief among the absentees, the inspiration behind last year's UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship triumph. Yet seven of that side are here – and mascot Rilo – bringing with them a "knowledge of how to win" according to Paños.

"They also got to the World Cup, finishing third – we would like to too," the Levante UD youngster added. "To win the trophy here would be another massive triumph, not only for us in Italy but also for all those in Spain that have played a part in our careers. But for now I'm focused on the semi-finals and securing a place at the World Cup – I'd like to experience that first. Getting to the World Cup would be fantastic, to experience a global tournament."

Alicante-born Paños was always destined for sporting success. Her mother was an athlete, father Luis played alongside Mario Kempes at Hércules CF, while elder brother Javi is on the books at promotion-chasing second division side Elche CF. Less certain was her adoption of the goalkeeping gloves. "I used to play futsal and we didn't have a goalkeeper so I stepped in," she explained. "I liked it straightaway, more than being an outfield player. And that was that.

"You have to have an understanding of what is happening all over the pitch, in fact, because you need to be giving information to your team-mates. Any false information can be damaging, changing the result. It's a very important position within a team." Spain will need Paños, in all her guises, at her best on Sunday.

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