Silvia Merida may one of the youngest members of this Spain squad, but she is the only player to have completed every single minute of her side’s matches so far at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Costa Rica. And she has done it in a crucial position, the centre of Spain’s defence, the second-meanest backline in the competition so far.
In Friday’s final, Merida and her fellow Spain defenders face their greatest challenge yet in the form of the Japan - who boast the tournament’s most prolific attack. Despite the fine form of tireless forwards Hina Sugita and Yui Hasegawa, however, the Malaga-born defender holds no fear.
“They ought to fear us instead, because we’re really united as a team,” she told FIFA.com. “We’ve grown and evolved in this competition, we’ve improved our play and our finishing.”
Las Rojitas lost 2-0 to Japan in their first group match in Costa Rica, but Merida is confident they can avoid a repeat of the mistakes made in that defeat. “There were a few nerves because it was our opening World Cup game, but it wasn’t only that. We didn’t get into our rhythm and we didn’t compete well,” said the defender, an admirer of both Carles Puyol and Sergio Ramos.
Like the latter duo, Merida is a warrior who fights to win every challenge and loose ball. Powerful in the air, she is also skilful with the ball at her feet. “The coach asks me to be strong and drive the team forwards. Mine is a good position from which to see how the game is developing and I always try to bring the ball out with a good pass,” the centre-back – who is a fan of Real Madrid – added.
Four years ago at the FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa, Spain’s men lost to Switzerland in their opening match but went on to make history by winning the Final at Soccer City. Now, Las Rojitas hope to repeat the feat achieved by Vicente del Bosque’s side.
This time, Spain fans will be made to suffer a little more as this game takes place in the early hours, but Silvia says it will be worth the wait. “It’s going to be an exciting game,” she said. “We’ll give our all right up to the end in order to do our very best for Spain.”
Whatever the outcome, the Atletico Benamiel defender already feels like a winner. “I’ve come up against some really good players from other teams, I’ve grown as a footballer thanks to this international experience and tackling such contrasting styles of play. I’ve also made a great group of friends on this adventure – they are like sisters to me now.”
What more could she ask for? Well, the trophy, logically, and a gold medal. And if she ends up as a champion, Merida knows exactly how she will celebrate: "If we win, the first hug will be for my coach, Jorge Vilda, because he brought me into the team a year ago, even though I was one of the youngest players.
"Whenever I’ve needed help, he has been there and he has given me a lot of support," she concluded, clearly emotional. "He has also given me more confidence in myself and I’m very grateful for that.”