Football Features

Super sub Salma Paralluelo becomes Spain’s new hero as La Roja reach first Women’s World Cup final

By Harry Edwards

Published: 11:24, 15 August 2023

Salma Paralluelo was the game changer for Spain as they sealed their first ever Women’s World Cup final thanks to a 2-1 win over Sweden.

With the 2023 Women’s World Cup entering the final four, Spain were just about edging ahead as the favourites to win the tournament, ahead of Sweden, England and Australia. It was Spain’s second appearance in the final four of a major tournament, having made it to the semi-finals of Euro 1997, but this felt like new ground.

Over the past few years Spain had been growing as a force in international football, aided by Barcelona’s rise to dominate Spain and Europe, but last year they were knocked out of the European Championships at the quarter-final stage.

The build up to Spain’s World Cup was largely centred around manager Jorge Vilda and the strike that 15 players went on from late last year, due to their unhappiness with Vilda and the Spanish Football Federation. But, with the World Cup looming, a host of those players made themselves available once more, not wanting to miss the tournament.

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While the strike was on going, Paralluelo was handed her senior debut for Spain, having starred for the European nation at youth level. The teenager is one of the brightest stars in Spanish football right now, having picked football over athletics, being an accomplished sprinter when she was younger.

It’s a decision Spain will forever be thankful for, as Paralluelo has thrived, scoring eight goals in 14 senior appearances. At the World Cup this summer, Paralluelo started the first four games for Spain, but was kept pretty quiet by Japan and Zambia, thriving against Costa Rica and Switzerland.

Against the Swiss, Paralluelo created five chances, with only two players created more in a single match at the 2023 Women’s World Cup. In the past two games, however, Paralluelo has been reduced to a super sub role and it’s worked.

In the quarter-finals against the Netherlands, Paralluelo came off the bench and eventually scored the winner in extra-time, her first competitive goal for Spain (with the first six all coming in friendlies). It was a similar case against Sweden, with Paralluelo coming on for Alexia Putellas who had struggled to have a real influence, still making her way back from injury.

Paralluelo completely changed the game for Spain. They looked a much more threatening side with the teenager on the pitch and she put her side ahead through a great finish from inside the area, Spain’s first shot on target in the match after 81 minutes.

For a moment, it looked as though the goal wouldn’t be enough for Spain in 90 minutes as Rebecka Blomqvist equalised for Sweden, but Olga Carmona won the game with a rocket from the edge of the area just as the match was edging towards injury time.

While Carmona will officially be the match winner, Paralluelo was the game changer, and without her who knows what could have happened for Spain.

“She had a massive impact on the game. What Spain lacked in that first half, that first 60 minutes was really threatening the Swedish backline,” Fara Williams said.

“And I thought was she did when she came into the game was stretch that backline of Sweden, really caused them problems which opened up the game for their more creative players to get on the ball.”

Alex Scott added: “As a defender, when you see someone come on like her, it affects your mindset because you know you’re having to drop.

“And she really changed and brought other players into the game because of her impact.”

Having won the U20 World Cup with Spain, scoring twice in the final, as well as the U17 World Cup in 2018, Paralluelo is already looking to complete the set.

If she scores in the final, Paralluelo would become just the third player to score in an U-20 Women’s World Cup final and the showpiece game of the senior tournament.

Simone Laudehr scored for Germany in the 2004 U20 final and the 2007 senior final and Alex Morgan scored for the USWNT at the 2008 and 2011 tournaments respectively. That means Paralluelo would become the first player to score in the U20 World Cup final and the final of the senior tournament immediately after, with there being U20 tournaments in 2006 and 2010 to deny Laudehr and Morgan respectively.

Spain will now face one of Australia or England in Sunday’s final, while Sweden take on the loser of that semi-final to determine third place on Saturday.