Monday 05 February 2018, 07:45

Rising La Roja eyeing further progress

  • Spain at highest-ever 13th in FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking

  • Head coach Jorge Vilda explains story behind country's success at youth level

  • La Roja defeated European champions Netherlands in recent friendly

Spain climbed four spots in December's FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking, moving back up into 13th. In the process, they equalled their highest-ever placing in the standings, which they first achieved last March. caught up with coach Jorge Vilda, who has been at the helm since July 2015, to discuss the blueprint underlying La Roja's years of success at youth level and the strides they are currently making on the senior stage.

"The first thing I did after taking charge was to try to really build up the team's confidence and get them believing in themselves, before turning my attention to fully entrenching the Spanish way of playing," said the tactician, who spent eight years working in his country's youth system.

"The team are taking the ideas on board and the players are competing at a really high level. We're coming closer and closer to displaying the footballing ethos that we aim for out on the pitch."

Spain's FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking history

  • Current position: 13th

  • Highest position: 13th

  • Lowest position: 20th

  • Average position: 18th

La Roja have established themselves as heavyweights at youth level over the past decade and their development efforts are bearing fruit. The three head coaches in the set-up work hand in hand, with a joined-up vision and a common goal: strengthening the senior side.

They know the country's youth ranks inside out and school the players in the same style of play from a very early age. This long-running endeavour is now being bolstered by two further factors, in Vilda's view: "The national team are benefiting from the strength of our domestic league and the fact that our players are heading overseas to other top-class divisions. As the girls kick on, that's enabling us to raise our game."

The team also have more opportunities to get into the groove and build up chemistry than in bygone years, with Spain playing far more friendlies than they used to. As Vilda explained, "Ever since I arrived, my intention has always been to make the most of every international break to play friendlies against the most suitable teams at every turn – opposition who pose a similar challenge to the one on the cards in the next competitive games."

"What's more, we're getting ever more invitations to play friendlies because we're earning respect and recognition. We make for attractive opponents."

Three issues that Spain need to address, according to Vilda:

  • "We're a team that like to attack and defend with the ball. We're working hard on improving our game off the ball."

  • "We need to be better at set-pieces, both in attack and in defence."

  • "Another challenge is to convert our possession – we have around 75 per cent of the ball in most games – into an abundance of chances. That would obviously increase our likelihood of scoring and winning matches."

Speaking of friendlies, the Spaniards' most recent run-out, on 20 January, yielded a 2-0 win over the Netherlands, the reigning European champions.

"That match was really encouraging. The Netherlands have a similar style to ours, which isn't something we often encounter. We competed well and, although there are always things you can improve on, beating the European champions gives us a nice morale boost ahead of the tests we have coming up."

Next on the horizon is the Cyprus Cup, which La Roja will be contesting for the first time. This presents an ideal occasion for Vilda's charges to gauge where they are and gather more momentum prior to resuming their FIFA Women's World Cup™ qualifying campaign, in which they remain unbeaten.

"We face Finland and Austria in April. That international break could prove pivotal and we're working hard to ensure we go into it in good shape and as well prepared as possible," said the coach, with one eye firmly on France 2019.