When Aitana Bonmati latched on to the ball with two minutes gone of Spain’s opening group match against Canada at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Papua New Guinea 2016 and sent an inch-perfect 40-metre pass through to Barcelona team-mate Mariona Caldentey, it was hard not to suspect that the two had practised the move before. Those suspicions were only heightened when Caldentey coolly chested the ball down and dinked the ball into the back of the net.
“No, the fact is we’ve never practised it before,” said Bonmati with a laugh when asked by FIFA.com if the move was something they had worked on previously. Confirming that comment, Caldentey said: “The thing is, we’ve been training together for a while. We’re from the same club and that’s why we know each other well. They’re just things that come off when you try them. Luckily, it helped the team get off to a good start in our opening match and it settled our nerves.”
That kind of understanding is good news for Spain, who have already shown themselves to be a side that likes to improvise and be creative. Canada can vouch for that, having fallen victim to a well-drilled unit that probed down the flanks, was not afraid to shoot from distance and enjoyed lots of success from crosses, racking up five goals without reply to send their confidence levels soaring.
“That was just the kind of start we were looking for,” said Caldentey. “It was important to get the three points and to score a few goals in the process. It’s not easy to score five, and we’re very happy and pleased that we did.” Bonmati, who picked up the Live Your Goals Player of the Match award for her performance against the Canadians, agreed: “Getting off to a start like that and winning our first group match was vital for us. It’s going to push us to keep going and to secure our place in the last eight as soon as we can.”
A tough test
Up next for Spain are Japan, a side Bonmati knows only too well, as she explained: “I was lucky, or unlucky, enough to come up against them twice at the U-17 World Cup in Costa Rica in 2014. We lost to them in the group phase and we lost to them again in the final.”
Highlighting Japan’s strengths, she added: “They’re a very strong team because they’ve got some really good players with a lot of technique. But I also feel that we’ve come on a lot since then and that we can pose a challenge to them.”
Explaining where Spain’s priorities lie, Caldentey said: “We’re thinking about our own game. We gave some thought to Canada and now we’re doing the same with Japan, but it’s vital that we concentrate on ourselves. If we keep our focus on the pitch and do things right, then they’re the ones who are going to be worrying.”
Can Spain maintain their momentum against the Japanese, and will their Barcelona duo conjure up yet more magic? All will be revealed when the two sides meet on Wednesday.