Spain's teen prodigy Salma Paralluelo looks to shine in Women's World Cup final

By AFP   August 19, 2023 | 08:03 pm PT
Spain's teen prodigy Salma Paralluelo looks to shine in Women's World Cup final
Spain's Salma Paralluelo celebrates scoring against Sweden during the Women's World Cup semi-final football match in Auckland, Australia on August 15, 2023. Photo by AFP/Marty Melville
Teenage forward Salma Paralluelo has had plenty of success on Spain’s youth football side and she is looking to make her mark on the big stage in the Women's World Cup final against England on Sunday.

At just 19 years old, FC Barcelona forward Paralluelo has put in a Women's World Cup performance that could provide plenty of reasons for the England side to lose sleep ahead of its clash with Spain in the tournament final on Sunday.

The left-footer was in the starting line-up for Spain’s first four 2023 World Cup matches and shone in the round of 16 match against Switzerland – which La Roja, as the Spanish side are known, won 5-1.

Paralluelo’s power, talent and lightning speed are an essential part of her team’s attack, which has proven to be one of the most successful in the competition with 17 goals in total.

An extraordinary tournament

Since the quarter-finals, the Spanish player has flourished in her role as "supersub", intervening towards the end of matches to game-changing effect. She came on for Jennifer Hermoso, Spain’s all-time top scorer, against the Netherlands and scored the winning goal in the 111th minute.

It was a similar story in the semi-final against Sweden, where she replaced two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas and opened scoring in the 81st minute with a sublime swivel shot. In both games, Paralluelo was named Woman of the Match.

"I feel really proud. The whole team is. We are one step away from victory," the teen prodigy said in a press conference after the match. "Scoring is a magic moment. It feels unique and incredible [but] it’s a whole team effort."

"She is unique. She is a one-off player thanks to her athletics background. She has a lot of skill with her left foot and her very good shooting," said Spain and Barcelona teammate Aitana Bonmati.

A choice between football and athletics

Born in the northern Spanish city of Saragossa to a Spanish father and an Equatorial Guinean mother, Paralluelo grew up dedicated to both football and athletics – and found prodigious success in both.

She first entered the Spanish national football team as a youngster, winning both the World Cup and European Cup with the under 17’s side in 2018. She has played for Spanish clubs Zaragoza CFF and Villarreal in addition to FC Barcelona.

As a teen, she also became junior national champion in the 400-metre sprint, the triple jump, and both the 60- and 400-metre hurdles. She still holds Spain’s under-20’s record for the 400-metre sprint and the under-18’s 400-metre hurdles.

For years she wanted to have two careers, as both "the best athlete and the best footballer in the world", but a ligament injury picked up in a match between Villarreal and Granada in April 2021 put her out of action in both disciplines.

She decided that instead of stretching her body to the limit, it was time to choose. "It was frustrating for me because I didn’t recover well from my injury and I couldn’t go out and be an athlete again. If I’d carried on [doing both], however, I would have lost more than I would have gained," she told FIFA+.

"If you want to achieve great things, you have to commit yourself to one sport."

Her words may as well have been prophecy. Athletics’ loss was football’s gain, and "great things" were quick to follow. Paralluelo transferred to FC Barcelona Femení in July 2022, and in her first season the club won the Spanish Championship and the Champions League. On the international stage, her latest World Cup victory came in 2022 as a member of the Spanish under-20s team. And she scored twice in the final.

Paralluelo has plenty of experience of being on the winning side – and is, no doubt, aiming to burnish her success on football's biggest stage on Sunday. A Spanish victory would also bring the remarkable personal achievement of becoming a three-time World Cup champion, all before the age of 20.

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