Friday, 7 June 2019

Women Football: Spain ready to climb their World Cup Everest

Spain ready to climb their World Cup Everest

Spain will have to climb the equivalent of Mount Everest if they are to escape the hardest group of the Women's World Cup, according to their coach Jorge Vilda.

A tough draw has placed Spain in Group B with Germany, China and South Africa, with the latter their first opponents in Le Havre on Saturday.

Germany, the reigning Olympic champions, are one of the favourites to lift the trophy in France, despite their coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg only taking over in November.

Meanwhile, South Africa and China both came within a whisker of winning the Africa Women's Cup of Nations and Asian Games respectively last year. South Africa lost on penalties to Nigeria in the final while China were denied only by a last-minute goal from Japan.

"I think we've been handed the hardest group of the tournament, and by far," Vilda said, in an interview with AFP.

"If I compared it to a mountain, it would be like climbing three summits, all of them over 8 000 metres.

"Germany can be the Everest of our group but South Africa and China are also playing at an extremely high level and it will be difficult to beat them.

"South Africa have so much speed going forward but they're also solid and disciplined. Germany is one of the favourites for the title and we have never managed to beat them. And then there is China, who have a fantasic team as well."

Spain enjoyed a perfect qualification campaign, winning all eight of their matches while conceding only two goals, but their difficult draw might not end in the groups, with the United States a potential foe in the last 16.

They have also never reached the knock-out stage of a World Cup but success at youth levels has created a sense of optimism this summer, helped by some impressive results in friendlies.

In November, they held Germany to a goalless draw in Erfurt before narrowly losing to the United States and beating the Netherlands, Switzerland, Brazil and Cameroon.

Asked about Spain's aims for the tournament, Vilda said: "To get through, to improve and to be a better team. We do not see the World Cup as an end in itself, it is an important part of a process of improvement for us but we have to see what happens.

"In these competitions, you have to keep a cool head and keep your feet on the ground because it's only our second World Cup after 2015. We are going into it with a lot of enthusiam and excitement but we have to be cautious too.

"We have raised expectations after our strong qualifying campaign and good performances in friendly games against great sides. We can't wait for the first match."

Women's football in Spain enjoyed unprecedented attention last season, as Barcelona reached their first Champions League final, two months after a European record crowd of 60 739 watched them play Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Spain's squad is dominated by players from Barca and Atletico, who finished six points ahead of the Catalans to win La Liga last season, with third-placed Levante 21 points adrift of the top two.

"We now have to develop the game more at youth level," said Vilda. "We are doing well at the top but this pyramid needs to have a stronger base if we want the first and second divisions, as well as the regional leagues, to improve.

"We have to support the clubs and help them to establish better structures and pitches. Then to be among the best in the world, you just have to stay calm and wait for the talent to come through."

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