Why Spain’s Paralluelo can make the difference in World Cup final vs. England


SYDNEY — Salma Paralluelo is the Kylian Mbappé of the women’s game, and England might be about to discover that the Spain forward has become an unstoppable force at the Women’s World Cup.

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Like France and Paris Saint-Germain star Mbappé, Paralluelo has blistering pace and can play anywhere across the forward line, and, come Sunday’s final, she could claim a World Cup winners’ medal as a teenager, just as Mbappé did aged 19 at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. She is destined to be a superstar who can take her sport to a new level.

England will go into the World Cup final at Stadium Australia with the pedigree of European champions — Sarina Wiegman’s team defeated Spain in the quarterfinals at Euro 2022 en route to winning the competition — but, in Paralluelo, Spain possess the player who can turn the game in an instant.

The 19-year-old has already done that twice at this World Cup. In the quarterfinal against Netherlands in Wellington, she came off the substitutes’ bench to win the tie with a stunning solo goal in the 111th minute of the game. Four days later, she once again made a decisive contribution as a second-half substitute by scoring the opening goal in the 2-1 semifinal win against Sweden in Auckland.

Despite naming her in the starting side in Spain’s first four games of the tournament, coach Jorge Vilda has since used Paralluelo as an impact sub, and the tactic has proved to be devastatingly successful.

“Against Sweden, the plan was to control the game and try and tire them out,” Vilda said. “We knew they would have their moments, and that’s why we kept Salma’s quality back for the second half. I don’t have to explain her quality, but she is just 19 and no-one knows what her ceiling is. We will help give her the tools to go as far as she can.”

Paralluelo has enjoyed a remarkable rise over the past 12 months. This time last year, she hadn’t even made her debut for La Roja. At that point, she had reached a sporting crossroads over whether to choose football or athletics.

Born in Zaragoza to a Spanish father and Equatorial Guinean mother, Paralluelo excelled at both sports as a youngster and represented Spain at the 2019 European Indoor Athletics championships as a 15-year-old in the 400-meter race. The same year, she won gold medals at the European Youth Summer Olympic Festival in the 400m run and the 400m hurdles.

In football, she signed for Villarreal in the same year and scored 23 goals in 37 appearances, suffering a cruciate ligament injury during her time at the club. A spectacular goal against Barcelona in April 2022 after her return from injury earned Paralluelo a nomination for the 2022 Puskás Award as best goal of the year and prompted Barca to make their move to sign her. Barcelona’s offer forced Paralluelo to decide between football and athletics. She chose football and, less than a year later, stands on the brink of becoming a World Cup winner. And what a year it has been.

Paralluelo made her debut for the senior Spain team in November 2022, scoring a hat trick in a 7-0 win against Argentina, having netted twice in the 2022 Under-20 World Cup final win against Japan. She also ended the season with 15 goals in 30 games and winners’ medals in La Liga F, Supercopa Femenina and the Champions League. The so-called mutiny within the Spain squad last October, when 15 players — known as “las 15” — wrote to the Spanish federation (RFEF) demanding changes behind the scenes amid concerns over Vilda’s management style, helped accelerate Paralluelo’s path into the national team as 12 of las 15 were dropped from the squad. Paralluelo was called up and, two days short of her 19th birthday, exploded on the scene against Argentina.

After scoring her first World Cup goal against Netherlands, softly spoken Paralluelo said it was a “unique moment” and “it means everything to me.”

When she netted against Sweden, the goal prompted Spain midfielder Aitana Bonmatí to kiss her right foot. “We all know she has a brutal left foot,” Bonmatí said. “But I always tell her that to be a more complete player, she has to shoot with the right.

“Loads of times she has the chance, goes on to her left and loses time. When we speak, I say ‘Try [using your right] because it gives you more resources, the rival won’t know what to expect and you will be a more complete player.’ We laugh about it in training because, when she tries it, I tell her ‘Well done, Salma, well done!'”

One of the England players likely to be tasked with nullifying the threat posed by Paralluelo is Lucy Bronze, her club teammate at Barcelona. And although the youngster might have taken many by surprise with her performances so far in Australia and New Zealand, Bronze says Paralluelo is performing exactly as she does at Barcelona.

“Listen, Salma has been on fire this tournament,” Bronze said. “I play against her every day in training, so I knew what she was capable of before this tournament. So seeing her do so well, I have seen that in training — that’s who I have trained against every single day this season.”

Bronze will need every piece of knowledge she has built up about Paralluelo to contain her on Sunday, whether she starts from the beginning or comes off the bench. But some players are too good and too fast to stop when they are at the top of their game, and Paralluelo is approaching that level.

Good news for Spain, but bad news for England.

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