Records are there to be broken and expectations to be defied, as Spain’s Veronica Boquete can vouch for. “We were odds on to lose,” she said, casting her mind back to the 2004 UEFA European Women’s U-19 Championship final against Germany, held in Finland. “Nobody had us down as the favourites, but the secret to our success is that we’re a strong team. I remember feeling that strength in the meeting we had before the final.”
Boquete and her team-mates showed plenty of it against the Germans, beating them to win Spain’s first ever women’s title and head to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Thailand later that year as European champions. So elated were they at their achievement and so determined to celebrate it, they had to be persuaded to leave the stadium.
Though 12 years have passed since that day, Boquete’s memories of it and the effect it has had remain as clear as ever: “It goes without saying that it changed me. I wanted to be a footballer and to reach the top and after that trip I realised that it was possible,” said the player from her home in Munich, where she is now playing for Bayern. “It gave me the confidence and the final push I needed to put everything I had into making a career as a footballer. I decided that I wanted to go and experience something like that again.”
In kicking on and fulfilling that dream, becoming the best-known and most successful female player Spain has ever produced, Boquete has also graced the biggest competition of them all, running out at last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in Canada as one of the Roja squad’s captains.
Alongside her on Canadian soil were fellow Thailand 2004 veterans Ruth Garcia and Natalia Pablos. “That was some team we had in 2004,” recalled Boquete, a UEFA Women’s Champions League winner with Frankfurt in 2015. “Before the European Championship we had a month-long training camp in Galicia (her home region). That really brought us together and we showed in that final against Germany how being united makes you strong.”
The team’s preparations for the U-20 world finals in south-east Asia did not go as smoothly, with the players unable to get together for so long and having to train on their own with their clubs. A further problem was the fact the tournament took place during term time, disrupting their studies.
“We were in the second year of sixth form, a year in which your grades really count when it comes to choosing the degree you want to do,” explained Boquete. “Those few months were really tough because you’re not playing the game professionally and it’s a time when your future depends on your studies. You have to study, take exams and train more than ever. It took a lot of effort and it was very stressful.”
Her efforts paid off, even if Spain were unable to impress in Thailand, failing to qualify from a group containing Russia, USA and Korea Republic. “We were very excited about it all,” recalled the Spain star. “It was the start of our careers and we had so many dreams to fulfil.”
Boquete made those dreams a reality one by one, in her own calm, measured and yet determined way. On returning from Thailand, she completed her studies and then signed for Prainsa Zaragoza. After making Espanyol her next destination, she began – like many of her fellow Galicians have done before her – to travel further afield, playing in the USA, Sweden, Russia and now Germany.
A new direction The generation of 2004 changed the course of Spanish women’s football history. No longer do Roja teams go into European and world finals competitions as dark horses. Previously tipped to fall short, Spain now rank among the favourites whenever silverware is at stake, a status founded on three European U-17 titles, several runners-up finishes at U-19 level and world U-17 bronze and silver medals.
“It’s a great source of satisfaction and pride to see how far Spanish women’s football has come thanks to the efforts of so many players and so many years of hard work and getting doors to open,” said the 28-year-old attacking midfielder, a quarter-finalist with La Roja at UEFA Women’s EURO 2013. “It makes me so happy to see the girls playing in finals. And the future’s going to be even better, for sure.”
There was no such precedent for Boquete and her team-mates to follow, their destiny only beginning to take shape in Thailand. “If you don’t see it, you don’t know that it exists,” she explained. “When you get to a World Cup, you see other things. You find things out and a whole new world of opportunities opens up, and that drives you on. It’s very important to be seen and get noticed.”
As well as paving the way for change on a professional level, appearing at a World Cup is also an enriching personal experience, as Vero can confirm. Recently named an ambassador of the Spanish women’s league, she has some advice for any player of any age group about to step on to the world finals stage.
“You don’t know if you’re going to get another chance,” she said. “And when you don’t, you miss it. My advice is to enjoy it, to enjoy everything. Sometimes you’re at a tournament and you focus on nothing but football, but I’ve learned to soak everything up: the training sessions, the places you visit, the people you meet, the food you eat, every second of every day. That’s what you’re left with in this life: the experience, the moments, the people.”