With nine minutes to go until the end of extra time in Spain’s quarter-final against the Netherlands, Salma Paralluelo collected a through ball in the Dutch half, bamboozled the defenders with a step-over and unleashed a left-footed thunderbolt that clanged off the post into the net, sending her team into their first-ever Women’s World Cup semi-final.
The 19-year-old Barcelona winger came off the bench in the 71st minute as coach Jorge Vilda looked to use her pace and ability to cut through the flanks as the match edged towards full time.
Keep readinglist of 3 items
“We have succeeded. We have fought until the end. We have believed,” Paralluelo said after the match.
“It was a unique moment. Great euphoria to have lived through that.”
— FIFA Women's World Cup (@FIFAWWC) August 11, 2023
Born in the northeastern city of Zaragoza to a Spanish father and a mother from Equatorial Guinea, Paralluelo represented Spain in athletics as well as football – excelling at the 400-metre (437-yard) hurdles until her last competitive race in 2020.
“I took up both sports when I was seven,” Paralluelo told FIFA in an interview last year, adding that she enjoyed both despite people telling her to “stick to one sport”.
“Athletics allowed me to be on my own, to be exposed, to train for myself and know that everything I was doing was for me alone,” she said ahead of her starring role at the FIFA Women’s Under-20 World Cup 2022 in Costa Rica, where she scored two goals in the final as Spain lifted the trophy for the first time.
She ultimately decided to leave the track for the football pitch after a string of injuries kept her out of both sports, leaving her heartbroken.
“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, however, I would have lost more than I would have gained,” she said.
“[Athletics] involved making a bigger sacrifice. With football, I got a kick out of it. I enjoyed sharing something with the team, with my people.”
Felix Laguna, Paralluelo’s athletics coach told The Athletic that “if she had chosen athletics and injuries had respected her, she would have ended up in an athletics final at the Olympic Games for sure”.
In 2019, Paralluelo left her hometown club to join Villarreal, where she spent three years, scoring 23 goals in 37 appearances but suffered a ruptured ACL in her left knee in April 2021 that kept her out for nine months.
She joined Barcelona in July 2022. The club boasts having the most (nine) players in Spain’s squad in the tournament Down Under and won the Champions League with them this June.
Best kiss ever pic.twitter.com/Bcfm7LNDXg
— Salma (@SalmaParalluelo) June 5, 2023
Since joining the Spanish squad for the World Cup, Paralluelo has received high praise from Vilda, who calls her a player with speed, power and “innate talent”.
“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.
Paralluelo started every game for Spain prior to the quarter-final and played a key role in Spain’s 5-1 win over Switzerland in the round of 16 with her deliveries from the left wing, two of which led to goals for Aitana Bonmati.
✨ Today, she sent her country to the World Cup semi-final for the first time pic.twitter.com/MisUO27Egs
— UEFA Women's EURO (@WEURO) August 11, 2023
“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,” the Spanish coach said.
“She is already shining now, but I am sure that in the future, she will do so even more.”
‘Difficult to find players like her’
With Alexia Putellas still recovering full fitness after a serious knee injury, midfielder Bonmati has been the leader in Vilda’s team, which will face Sweden in the last four in Auckland on Tuesday.
“She is unique,” Bonmati said of Paralluelo. “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.”
“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.”
— Asif Burhan (@AsifBurhan) August 12, 2023
Paralluelo could have a big role to play in the semi-final against a physically imposing Swedish side thanks to her pace, direct running and power on the flank.
In a welcome selection headache, 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.
After the win over the Netherlands, Vilda said his team had “reached somewhere we’ve never reached before”.
If they go one better and end up booking a place in Sunday’s final, Paralluelo would have the unique opportunity to win two FIFA World Cup titles within the space of a year, a feat many wouldn’t put past the teenager.