Women’s World Cup semi-finalists Spain might be defined by technique and a mesmerising passing game, but the player who gives them that precious something different is Salma Paralluelo.
The 19-year-old took Spain to this stage of the World Cup for the first time with her brilliant winner against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals.
The Barcelona ace, who was once a promising athlete before concentrating on football, struck on the counter-attack in extra time after coming off the bench.
A starter in every round before that, she also played a big part in the 5-1 demolition of Switzerland in the last 16 with her deliveries from the left wing, two of which led to goals for Aitana Bonmati.
With Alexia Putellas still recovering full fitness following a serious knee injury, midfielder Bonmati has been the leader in Jorge Vilda’s team that will face Sweden in the last four in Auckland on Tuesday.
But Paralluelo could have a big role to play against a physically imposing Swedish side thanks to her pace, direct running and power on the flank.
“She is a player with enormous potential and she is a long way from touching the ceiling in terms of what she can do,” Vilda said.
“She is very young and has only been focusing fully on training for football for a year. We will see the best of Salma in the future.
“She is already shining now, but I am sure that in the future she will do so even more.”
Vilda must consider whether to recall Paralluelo from the start or whether to focus first on passing Sweden into submission in a clash of styles at Eden Park.
Spain have completed 3,171 passes in their five games so far at the tournament, compared to under 2,000 for Sweden.
– Athletics star –
Born in the northeastern city of Zaragoza to a Spanish father and a mother from Equatorial Guinea, Paralluelo grew up combining football with athletics.
“I started doing both when I was seven. At first it was just a game for me but little by little as I grew up I started to realise I could go further,” she said of her early footballing days in an interview with FIFA.com last year.
Paralluelo won medals in several different track disciplines, taking part in hurdles and triple jump.
She also competed in the 400 metres at the 2019 European Indoor Championships in Glasgow, when aged 15.
Paralluelo’s budding football career took her to Villarreal, where she suffered a ruptured ACL in her left knee in April 2021 that kept her out for nine months.
In July last year she joined Barcelona, the emerging superpower of European women’s club football, just after another injury ruled her out of the Spain squad for the European Championship in England.
That move meant giving up athletics once and for all.
“It was difficult to give up one sport, but it was a step I had to take and I couldn’t be in a better place,” she said at the time.
– ‘Unique’ –
Having helped Barca win the Champions League in June, she is now hoping to beat Sweden and go on to win a third world title with Spain.
Paralluelo was part of the team that won the Under-17 World Cup in 2018 and scored twice in the final as Spain beat Japan 3-1 to win last year’s Under-20 World Cup.
“She is unique. It is difficult to find players like her, whose background is in athletics and who has so much quality on her left foot and a really good shot,” said Bonmati.
“When we have played together we combine well and we try to play her in either in space or to her feet. You can do both with her.”