It should come as no surprise to see Spain midfielder Sara Merida performing so impressively at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Trinidad and Tobago 2010. After all, her big brother is none other than Atletico Madrid star Fran Merida, who knows a thing or two about triumphing on the international stage.
Four seasons an Arsenal player, Fran showed his kid sister the way when he helped Spain claim the UEFA European U-17 title in 2007 and then finish runners-up at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Korea Republic later that year. Picking up where her brother left off, Sara took receipt of a European U-17 winners’ medal herself earlier this year and is now plotting similar success with Las Rojitas in the Caribbean, the latest chapter in a lifetime dedicated to the game.
“I think I started to play football as soon as I could walk,” she tells FIFA.com in the comfortable surroundings of the team’s hotel in Port of Spain. “My parents have done everything they can to support me and obviously they’re happy now. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them.”
The two siblings have taken contrasting paths to date. Whereas Fran had already signed a professional contract with the Gunners by the time he appeared at Korea 2007, his sister has had to pursue her studies and her football career at the same time. “There weren’t many women’s teams around when I started but things have improved and the game is growing fast,” says Sara, who plays her club football for Espanyol, runners-up in the Spanish Women’s Super League last season. “Obviously the standard of men’s U-17 football is higher because most of the players are already professionals.”
Passion and a talent to match
“I watched every match of the World Cup my brother played in, not just the Spain games,” says the self-confessed football addict. “To be here now is so exciting for me. This is a unique experience for us and I want to make the most of it. My father and brother both gave me the same piece of advice before I came here: ‘Enjoy it and learn from it’.”
The tireless midfielder is doing more than just that, constantly cajoling her colleagues and using her considerable dead-ball skills to help Spain reach the second round of a FIFA women’s tournament for the very first time. It was from one of her pin-point corner kicks, for example, that Laura Gutierrez headed in her side’s third in their opening win against Japan. “I’d been doing a lot of sit-ups as punishment because the corners hadn’t been working out, so it was nice to see the training pay off,” she laughs. Merida then turned scorer in Spain’s next outing against New Zealand, curling in a fine free-kick from the edge of the penalty box.
“We have the quality to move the ball around better and to beat anyone,” adds the midfield general, who invariably loses her voice as a result of urging her team-mates on and who lists compatriot Cesc Fabregas as one of her role models. “I’m proud because we’ve worked hard and are improving at the back. We also have a lot more to offer technically and up front.”
After sitting out Las Rojitas’ last game in Group C against Venezuela, Sara is raring to go for Spain’s next challenge: Friday’s quarter-final meeting with Brazil at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva. Driven on by the incentive of matching her brother by reaching the final, she believes it is a challenge the European champions can meet: “When you get to the quarter-finals it’s winner takes all. I’ve got every faith in the team because we always give our all and do our very best, so let’s just wait and see what happens.”