The importance of the two superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to their national and club teams is beyond repute. They are the modern game’s two superstars, boasting six FIFA Ballon d’Or wins between them, and comparing them can be a long and often endless endeavour.
It would seem that Jorge Vilda, coach of Spain’s U-19 women’s team, had the ‘Messi vs Ronaldo’ debate running through his head after the final of the UEFA Women’s U-19 Championships in 2015. His praise was not reserved for one of his own players but for one of the opposition: Stina Blackstenius. “You just can’t keep a player like that quiet for 90 minutes,” he said. “It’s as if you’re playing a team with Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi in it. If one player is so much better than the rest, then you can’t stop them.”
For her part, Blackstenius took Vilda’s comparison with more than a hint of modesty. “It’s obviously great to hear something like that and it means a lot to me,” she said in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “When I hear things like that, it gives me a lot of motivation. Messi and Ronaldo are obviously players I want to emulate, because they’re just such great footballers. I want to be able to decide games on my own, and my dream is to be the best player in the world.”
With just a few months to go before the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Papua New Guinea 2016, the forward is brimming with confidence and rightly so. At the U-19 European Championships last summer, the Linkoping native stole the show in the final against Vilda’s side, her series of devastating attacks producing with two goals and an assist in the 3-1 success. She finished the tournament with six goals in just four appearances, with her second brace coming in a 3-3 draw against Germany in the semi-final, a game that the Swedes eventually won on penalties. “We couldn’t live with their No9”, Germany coach Maren Meinert said afterwards.
To now be sharing the same pitch as them is indescribable
Sweden will now be focusing on building on their European success when they travel to Papua New Guinea for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, to be played between 13 November and 3 December. “It would be a dream to play at the World Cup, and I think we can go a long way,” says Blackstenius. “We showed it last summer. We have a really good team with a lot of potential and talent. We really link up well together on the pitch and that could be the key to success.” That team strength will certainly be important if Blackstenius and her team are to make their mark on the tournament. Curiously enough, despite Sweden’s senior women’s side having qualified for every FIFA Women’s World Cup™, this will only be the second time that the U-20 side will compete in their age group’s most prestigious tournament. Their only previous jaunt was in 2010, when they exited at the quarter-final stage after a 2-0 loss to Colombia.
However, before attentions turn to Oceania, Blackstenius is looking ahead to a further highlight at the end of this season: the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament in Rio de Janeiro. The 20-year-old was a regular in the squad during qualification and featured in her side’s last few friendly matches. A call-up to the final party for Brazil would be the latest success in her meteoric rise to prominence in recent years. She only made her senior debut for the Blagult in a 1-0 win over Denmark in front of over 10,000 fans in December 2015, with her first goal following some weeks later. “It was amazing,” she beamed afterwards. “A dream came true for me. It was just so much fun playing in front of a crowd like that and it was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Neither will she forget first linking up with Sweden’s star players Caroline Seger and Lotta Schelin, stars Blackstenius had only previously seen on television.
"To now be sharing the same pitch as them is indescribable," the youngster says. Playing with them has also helped Blackstenius improve her game and become a better player, and it comes as no surprise that clubs all over Europe have already enquired as to her availability. However, a transfer from Swedish top-flight side Linkopings FC is not on the agenda.
Lionel Messi happened to hog the headlines at his one and only FIFA U-20 World Cup back in 2005, winning the trophy and taking home the adidas Golden Ball as player of the tournament as well as the adidas Golden Shoe as top scorer. Should Blackstenius even remotely mirror those achievements, she will remain worthy of comparison with the Messis and Ronaldos of this world.