Tuesday 16 July 2019, 06:42

Spain's Aleixandri eyeing a new Rojita high

  • Spain go in search of their third consecutive European U-19 title

  • Four places at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2020 up for grabs

  • We speak to Rojita captain Laia Aleixandri

Like any other fan, Laia Aleixandri spent the days between 7 June and 7 July on the family sofa, glued to the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™. “I think I watched every game. I really enjoyed it. It was a great World Cup,” said the young centre-half, who spent her time between matches sending messages of support to her colleagues in the Spain team.

She plays alongside some of them for Atletico Madrid and is acquainted with the others, having recently made her full international debut against Cameroon, an occasion the defender marked with a goal. And along with the three youngest members of the 23-strong squad that travelled to France – Patri Guijarro, Aitana Bonmati and Lucia Garcia – Aleixandri finished as a runner-up at the U-20 Women’s World Cup nearly a year ago.

“We’re very close to them and they set an example in terms of the desire, effort and sacrifice you need to make to earn a place in the senior team.” That “we” refers to the U-19 team that she captains and which, from Tuesday 16 July, will go in search of a third consecutive European title in the age group and one of the four UEFA places available at next year’s U-20 women’s world finals.

🤓 The lowdown on Laia Aleixandri

  • Aged 18, a versatile central defender who can also play on the left flank and in the centre of midfield.

  • Strong points: bringing the ball out of defence, vision, skilful and strong.

  • Role models: Virginia Torrecilla and Xavi Hernandez.

  • The defensive leader of the Atleti side that won the Spanish league in 2019.

  • Won her first senior Spain cap in the 4-0 defeat of Cameroon on 17 May.

  • Honours with La Rojita: European Women’s Under-17 Championship winner in 2015 and runner-up in 2016 and 2017; third place at the U-17 Women’s World Cup in 2016; and a runner-up at the U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2018.

With Aleixandri about to contest her first European Under-19 Championship, she is looking to add to that impressive list of honours. “There are a few players in my generation with the same medals as me and we always say that the gold is coming and that it’s our time,” she smiled. “We’re going to try and make that happen. There are places at the World Cup available too, which is an extra incentive.”

💪 A major challenge

Given their experience and recent successes, Spain go into the tournament as favourites. Eight of the 20 squad members know what it means to be U-17 world champions and/or U-20 World Cup runners-up. Yet the road to that sought-after gold will not be easy, as she acknowledged: “The group phase will be one of the toughest I’ve ever faced. We’re going in with the goal of getting out of the group and seeing what happens next.” The first step comes against Belgium on 16 July.

🔎 A quick glance at the UEFA Women’s Under-19 Championship

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Scotland (hosts)🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England
🇳🇱 Netherlands🇧🇪 Belgium
🇳🇴 Norway🇪🇸 Spain
🇫🇷 France🇩🇪 Germany

*The top two teams in each group qualify for the semi-finals and for the U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2020.

🤔💭 Aleixandri’s tips

We asked the defender to stick her neck out and identify Spain’s main rivals for the trophy and a place at the world finals:

  • England: “I think they’re a great side.”

  • The Netherlands: “They’re a fantastic team too.”

  • Germany: “They’re missing a few players but they’re very competitive and they always make the finals.”

  • France: “They’re a world power.”

After enjoying the World Cup as fans, it's not Aleixandri and her Rojita team-mates' turn. And the defender has a message for anyone who has just discovered women’s football over the last few weeks.

“I’d tell them to enjoy our football, to get into it,” she said. “I’m sure we project the same level of excitement to them and the same sense of professionalism as the boys. The World Cup had an impact in Spain and I think they’re going to be keeping an eye on us too.”