Veronica Boquete discusses the development of women’s football in Spain
In August, La Roja entered the top ten of the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking for the first time
“Spain will be favourites for the next EURO,” she says
A great deal has changed in women’s football in Spain between the national team making their FIFA Women’s World Cup™ debut at Canada 2015, where they registered a draw and two defeats, and their entering the qualifying campaign for Australia/New Zealand 2023 this week as one of the sides expected to compete for the trophy.
During this period, the women’s game in the Iberian nation has undergone some dramatic changes and improvements, to the extent that the Spanish national team are now regarded as one of the best on the planet, as evidenced by their breakthrough into the top ten of the FIFA/Coca Cola Women’s World Ranking last month.
“This progression is so satisfying to see,” Spanish footballing icon Veronica Boquete told FIFA.com. “It’s what we all wanted, and now Spain have finally got to a place that their talent merits.”
Boquete, who played for Espanyol between 2008 and 2011 before appearing for a number of other clubs, including Tyreso, Bayern Munich and Frankfurt (with whom she won the UEFA Women’s Champions League in 2015), continued: “The key has been the involvement of big clubs and regional football federations. There’s more professionalisation, and the general standard of player has risen. For those who have talent, and who, years ago, had no way of developing further, the sky’s now the limit.
“The Spanish football community was among the first to offer support and a structure so that we could play professionally. In terms of society and mentality, it has been a bit harder, but it is happening, and we’re getting closer and closer to where we want to be.”
Improvements in results and performances have also captured the ex-international’s attention. Many of the key players in the Spain squad embarking on the qualifying campaign for the 2023 Women’s World Cup were her team-mates at one time or another. “If I had to pick a team of women I’ve played with, many of them would be Spanish,” said the 34-year-old AC Milan star. “There has always been talent there.”
At France 2019, the shifting situation in Spain was already starting to have a noticeable effect. After their quarter-final exit at the 2017 UEFA European Women’s Championship, the Women’s World Cup provided the ideal stage to demonstrate how far they had come, and although a strong USA side brought a premature end to their dreams of glory in the Round of 16, the conclusions were nevertheless positive.
“Spain showed that they could play at a very high level; that match took away any fear that they had,” explained Boquete. “When you get to that level, good things are usually just around the corner. Spain are already favourites for the next European Championship, in my opinion.
“They’ll have to learn how to deal with making the leap from being a mediocre team to one that could potentially become European or world champions, although their players are pretty experienced already.”
Spain’s Women’s World Cup quest begins in earnest this Thursday, as the European qualifying campaign for Australia/New Zealand 2023 gets underway. La Roja have been placed in Group B alongside Scotland, Ukraine, Hungary and Faroe Islands, with the group winners automatically booking a spot at the tournament proper.
Boquete continued: “We’re talking about women who are already extremely accomplished at club level. Barcelona’s players have played in two major finals, and they’re the current European champions. For the ones out there already enjoying success, it’s not going to be a problem.”
There is no doubt that Barcelona Femeni have played a key role in Spanish football’s recent growth. They were Women’s Champions League runners-up in 2019, before going one step further earlier this year, impressively defeating Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg in a showpiece match that elevated them to Europe’s elite once and for all.
“When they lifted the trophy, I felt the same as I do about the growth of women’s football: satisfaction and happiness for all of them, for the culmination of a long-term plan and for the fact that when you believe and invest in something, the results will come,” Boquete explained.
“Barça went from a second division side to one competing for major honours. They set up a youth academy and looked further afield for what they didn’t have at home, but 80 to 90 per cent of the players are still Spanish.”
The core of Barcelona’s squad also forms the nucleus of the Spanish national team, and according to Boquete, that is a hopeful sign for the future. “Those eight or so Barça regulars could well play in Spain’s next match,” she pointed out. “That gives us an advantage in big matches. They know each other well and they train together, and that isn’t the case in other countries.”
Women’s youth academies in Spain are also experiencing something of a boon. With graduates among the stars of the national team, with the media and clubs supporting and showcasing the women’s game, and with regional federations working with young girls, everything appears to be heading in the right direction.
“The structure of clubs’ youth systems shows that things are gradually improving,” said the former Portland Thorns striker. “Girls get into their first teams at 5 or 6 years of age, they develop, they get a lot of visibility, and parents increasingly accept that their daughters go on to become footballers.”
Although this would have been a suitable conclusion to the discussion, Boquete prefers to end on a confident, contented note: “I’m so proud and optimistic when I think about the big events coming up like the World Cup and the EURO, where, as I said, Spain will be favourites.”