It is March 2013 and Sandra Hernandez is playing for her club San Gabriel, the day before she is due to link up with the Spain team for the second phase of the UEFA European Women’s Under-17 Championship.
One minute she is running and the next she crumples to the floor, clutching her knee. The doctors later confirm the worst: the “terrible” triad, a devastating injury to the anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and the meniscus.
Ahead of the stricken player lay surgery and a ten-month recovery programme involving a lot of sweat, toil and tears.
Hernandez came through it all, however, and is now reaping the benefit of her hard work at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2014, where she has been starring in Spain’s run to the quarter-finals.
“The first four months were very dark, but as soon as I picked up the injury I focused on working as hard as I could to make the World Cup,” she told FIFA.com. “The boss rang the same day I was injured and told me to stay calm, that I’d recover and that he’d keep me in his plans. He called me every month to see how I was getting on, but I was worried about the lack of games.”
As her team-mates fought their way to the runners-up slot at the European Championship, earning a place in Costa Rica in the process, she was back home watching on TV: “It’s much worse when you’re not on the pitch and involved in the competition.”
This time around, however, the determined 16-year-old is involved and making her mark with a goal and two assists in the group phase.
“It’s a dream come true,” she added. “It’s a reward for a lot of hard work. The World Cup is the pinnacle for any player, and the mix of teams from around the world makes it different to any other competition I’ve played in.”
Driven to succeed
“Daddy, I want to play in Barcelona,” she said one day to her father, who taught her how to play the game, shed tears when she was struck down with injury and who now feels nothing but pride at her comeback.
Two years ago Hernandez made her childhood dream a reality, signing for the Barcelona-based San Gabriel, some 2,500 kilometres away from her family home in Lanzarote.
“It’s taken a lot of sacrifice, commitment, effort and desire,” said Hernandez, who shares a flat with her team-mates and divides her time between playing, training and studying. “It’s hard to be so far away from my family and I don’t get to see them very much, but the experience I’m having here makes up for all the times I feel low.”
“They’re fast and very powerful,” she said of the Africans. “They key for us, though, is to compete. We have to win every ball we go in for. We’re hungry for a place in the semis.”
Though they put seven goals past Paraguay in their final group game, Hernandez believes Spain have plenty of room for improvement: “We need to find more rhythm and keep the pace of our game up. We also have to improve our passing, control and touch, and increase and improve our movement.
“Though I’m pleased with my performance up to now, I want more. I want to make an even bigger contribution for the coach and the team. And I want to carry on playing in World Cups and to represent Spain at senior level.”
The final word goes to her national team coach Jorge Vilda, who predicts a very bright future for the player: “She’s on her way to being one of the best in Europe. She was very unlucky with the injury, but she’s given everything up for football and she’s got what it takes to make the senior side.”