They look the same, but they are different. Very different. "We're like night and day," Spanish starlet Noelia Ramos said about herself and her twin sister Natalia.
No one in their team gets the pair – nicknamed Double N – mixed up any more, helped by the fact that it is a long time since they last impersonated one another. "When we were younger, sometimes we'd swap clothes at school and play tricks on the teacher. But no, we don't mess around with [international coach] Tona," Noelia went on.
Goalkeeper Noelia, a vice-captain in the squad that is currently contesting the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Jordan 2016, is the more serious of the two: "I'm the bossy one, the one who cracks the whip. I'm strict and I've got more of a temper." Indeed, when centre-half Natalia, who is more fastidious about her appearance, was taking her time getting ready in the dressing room, Noelia had no qualms about going in to fetch her so that they could kick off their joint-interview with FIFA.com sooner rather than later.
"We were born with football running through our veins. It was everything to us. We used to get given dolls for Christmas and we'd ask for footballs instead," said Natalia. Their lineage doubtless played a role: their father, Miguel, and uncle, Eduardo, both graced La Liga for Tenerife: "We used to have kick-arounds with our cousins. Sometimes our parents would join in," added Noelia, picking up the story.
The next logical step was to join a club, although they were unable to do so at the same time. "I started a year earlier, aged five, because my sister had a heart problem," explained Natalia. Fortunately for the Ramos family, the issue turned out to be just a scare and now both can pursue their passion. At the age of just 17, they ply their trade together for Spanish women's top flight outfit Granadilla, based in their native Tenerife. Natalia's job is to help keep things as tight as possible in front of Noelia, who spends all game talking and barking out orders to her backline. "I'm used to seeing her when I look back, but I also feel comfortable playing with other players," said the centre-half diplomatically.
So far the twins have lined up together once in Jordan, against New Zealand, when Natalia was often the last defender and had to be on her toes throughout to prevent her sister from being called into action too regularly. This epitomises the way in which they have always linked up, ever since they were kids, when instead of keeping out goals they used to score them for fun.
In Noelia's words, "I started out as a keeper, but the team I played for used to score a lot of goals and I got bored, so I had a spell up front." "I've got a good strike from long range," added Natalia with a laugh. "One year I was the top scorer with 81 goals, ahead of my sis on 56. I used to cross corners in for her to finish off and vice versa."
They share a bedroom back at home, but not while in the La Rojita set-up, where the rooms are allocated by position. "We end up appreciating that because we're usually together 24 hours a day," said Natalia. This means that, at least while on international duty, there is none of the typical sibling bickering over one of them being untidy or taking too long in the bathroom. In any case, the pair insisted that they get on well and respect one another's space. "There are times when I like to do my own thing and be in the bedroom on my own," said the defender. "I'm more restless. I never stop, I like listening to music," chimed in the shot-stopper before being interrupted by her sister: "That's right, but only at home because I'm the DJ in the dressing room." Cue laughter all round.
They have already agreed how they are going to celebrate if they taste global glory. "Before we came out here we had thought about getting the same tattoo and now we've decided that if we win it, we'll get something related to this World Cup, because it's a unique experience," said Natalia.
However, Spain still have a long way to go if they are to lift the title and, having successfully negotiated the group stage, they have a tough obstacle in their path in the shape of Germany, their conquerors at this year's UEFA Women's U-17 Championship. One thing is for sure, though: Double N are ready to rise to the challenge. As Noelia put it, "They're opponents that we know well and they know us, but we never approach any game with fear. We have to go all out because we want to keep our dream alive."