Thursday’s UEFA Women’s Champions League final between 1. FFC Frankfurt and Paris Saint-Germain in Berlin pitches two Latin stars against each other, with the German club’s Spanish ace Veronica Boquete and PSG’s Costa Rican idol Shirley Cruz going head-to-head in a midfield battle that could prove crucial.
“Shirley is one of the greatest players in the world, as she’s shown for many years now,” an appreciative Boquete told FIFA.com. “She really is special.”
The talented Tica was no less effusive in her praise for her opponent: “I’ve got a lot of respect for her because she’s a great player. She’s done a great deal for Spanish football and has a lot of talent.”
The two came face to face to face in the knockout rounds of the competition last year, when Boquete was running out for the now defunct Swedish club Tyreso, who beat PSG before going on to lose to Wolfsburg in the final.
The defending champions fell to PSG in this year’s semi-finals, with Cruz, who left her native Costa Rica nine years ago to forge her career in France, now looking forward to her fourth European final.
“They’re all different and they’re all special,” the 29-year-old told FIFA.com. “I think this has been the toughest one to reach though, because we’ve had to beat some top sides like Lyon and Wolfsburg.”
The favourites tag
“They’re the favourites because they’ve got more experience,” said Cruz in reference to Frankfurt, who have won the competition three times before. “This is PSG’s first final. It won’t be easy but we’re just one step away from fulfilling a dream, and I’m sure it’s going to be a great game. You have to enjoy finals because it’s so hard to get there.”
Cruz should know, having lost one with Lyon in 2010 and then helping them to win the next two, the second of them against Frankfurt.
“We’ve maybe got more history behind us but the past is the past. All that matters now is the present,” said Boquete, who is one year Cruz’s junior. “PSG are just as big a side and just as much favourites as we are. We’re confident we can win but I’m a realist. Being confident is not enough. You have to go and play the game and earn the right to be European champions.”
She added: “PSG are very strong defensively and they’re very difficult to score against. They’ve lost one of their leaders in Caroline Seger, who’s a great friend of mine, but they’ll still have a dominant midfield and offensive players who can make all the difference, like Laura Georges in defence, Cruz in midfield and Kosovare Asllani and Fatmire Alushi up front.
“They’re the ones who stand out, but every player in that team is capable of doing something special,” continued the Spaniard, who went on to say that she has developed her craft in what is her first year in Germany, having previously played in Sweden, Russia and the USA.
“They play a different kind of game here,” explained Boquete, one of the nominees for the BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year award. “It’s more direct style and the matches are more physical. Adapting to it has made me a better all-round player.”
Next stop Montreal
Cruz is no less complete a player, one who rarely turns in a bad performance. If her passing game is off, the Costa Rican will make up for it by being dominant in her defensive duties, and vice versa. She also brings experience and a cool head to a dressing room that has seen the arrival of some big names over the last year.
“It’s always difficult to settle in at the start,” said Cruz, who is in the running for the French league’s Player of the Year award. “You have to start with the language because communicating with each other on the pitch is very important. We’re very close off the pitch and that unity helps us win as a team.”
That nomination has come despite the fact Cruz underwent a knee operation in February. Though she has since made a full recovery, the Costa Rican admitted to fearing the worst at the time: “I was scared because I thought there might have been a problem with the bone. Luckily, though, it was only a bit of cartilage that had come away.
“I was worried it might be the end for me and it was all the more painful because I was so excited about the World Cup,” she added. “The main thing is my health, though, and I didn’t want to risk having to retire early. I’m just lacking a bit of rhythm and fitness but I’m working on it.”
As fate would have it, Boquete and Cruz will be facing off again next month at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, when they will lead their national teams out for the opening match in Group E of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™.
“We’ve got a very exciting end to the domestic season ahead of us and it’s hard to think about the World Cup right now,” said the Spain international. “But obviously it is on my mind and I can’t wait for it. It’s going to be a unique experience.”
Those sentiments are shared by Cruz: “It gives me that bit more motivation to get things right. It was a dream come true and the objective now is to get through the group phase. Let’s take things step by step, though. First of all, we want to end the season on a high note with PSG.”