Not every player can claim to have scored five goals in the space of 35 minutes, yet that is exactly what Spain forward Natalia Pablos achieved against Macedonia in February. It was a feat made all the more special by the fact that the game in question was a qualifier for the FIFA Women’s World Canada 2015™, one she started on the bench.
“I was pretty lucky that day,” said the smiling striker, still somewhat disbelieving about her contribution to a victory that strengthened Spain’s position at the top of their group and left them very well placed to reach the world finals for the first time.
“I think qualifying would mean an awful lot for women’s football in Spain,” the Bristol Academy player told FIFA.com. “Reaching the last European Championships was pretty important too (Spain’s appearance at the UEFA Women's EURO 2013, where they reached the last eight, was their first in the European finals in 16 years). Being there with the best teams in the world and getting ourselves known would be another step forward.”
The Spaniards will never have a better chance of breaking their world finals duck, and Natalia has never been in better form. Now 28, the Madrid-born striker is preparing for her second season with English Women's Super League (WSL) side Bristol Academy, having spent the last few months with Rayo Vallecano, the club where it all began for her.
“The main reason why I’m playing in both leagues is to keep my fitness levels up because you go for several months without playing in England,” she explained. “And, obviously, the only team I’m going to play for in Spain are Rayo.”
That devotion is not surprising given the legendary status Pablos enjoys at the Madrid club, where she has scored over 300 goals, worn the captain’s armband and won three league titles and one cup.
So what made her make the move to England? The experience of playing in another league was one reason, and the chance to learn English another. “I’m working on it,” she laughed. “And I’m improving too. Last year I couldn’t even string two words together and now I can have a conversation.”
Her initial language problems did not prevent her from having one of the most productive seasons of her career, with her 12-goal haul helping the unfancied Bristol finish league and cup runners-up.
“When I arrived I never thought for a minute I’d manage that,” she acknowledged. “It was an amazing season and the team is itching to get out there and show that it was no fluke.”
Next stop: Italy
Natalia has plenty to keep her occupied as she awaits the start of the English league season on 13 April, with Spain continuing their bid to reach Canada 2015. Absent from the national side for several years, mainly because of her decision to complete her Physical Education studies, Pablos has made quite a splash since returning to the fold at the start of the qualifying competition, grabbing five goals in seven games, putting her level with Sonia Bermudez as the team’s leading scorer.
Though they are in pole position, Spain’s hopes hinge to a large extent on their next game, as the in-form forward pointed out: “The big day for us is 5 April, when we play Italy. A win or a draw in that game would be a massive boost for our hopes.”
The Italians lie second in the section, six points behind La Roja but with a game in hand. Casting her mind back to the first group meeting between the two, which Spain won 2-0, Pablos said: “Everything worked out perfectly for us. I think it was our best performance of the qualifiers so far.
"We know that they’re our biggest rivals and that it will be us or them going to the World Cup, because it’s really tough to get through the play-offs.”
It will be no easy task, with four more games still to come after the Italy tie, the first of them away to Macedonia, Pablos’ favourite victims. The prize waiting for her and her team-mates is one well worth winning, however, as she went on to say: “The World Cup is the best competition there is. It would be just amazing.”
Should she continue in her goalscoring form, the girls in red will have every chance of being there.