Friday 14 October 2016, 23:04

Better late than never for Pina and Hernandez

Being called into the Spain squad was a case of better late than never for Claudia Pina and Oihane Hernandez. The very last additions to their country's squad, the pair are now enjoying the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Jordan 2016 more than anyone.

“I only joined the team a week before they announced the World Cup squad. We went to play a tournament in the Czech Republic, and that was already a dream come true. Then when I was told that I was going to the World Cup, I couldn’t believe it!” Now, with the tournament reaching its latter stages, Pina gasped as she told of the moment she saw her name on the list as part of La Rojita’s squad.

What’s more, the striker has proved to be one of Spain’s stand-out performers at the tournament. Having come off the bench to score two goals during the group stage, Pina was named in the starting line-up to play Germany in the quarter-finals. She responded with another fine display, much to the delight of head coach Tona Is, who encouragingly shouted “Pina, grande!!!” as she passed by the youngest member of her squad. The 15-year-old forward just chuckled: “This group is incredible,” she said.

But if it came as a surprise for Pina to see her name on the squad list, just imagine how team-mate Oihane Hernandez must have felt. The defender from Bilbao also travelled with the provisional squad to the warm-up tournament in the Czech Republic, only to miss out on a spot in the final squad. Then, just as her life seemed to have returned to normal, the news came through.

“I was training at my club," she explained. "And they told me that one of my team-mates – Ana Velasquez – had been injured, and that I would probably have to go to the World Cup. I was in shock!” Having heard the news on Saturday, by Monday Hernandez was on her way to Jordan. “When I was packing my bag, I didn’t even know what to put in. I just said to myself that the most important things were my boots and shinpads, and fortunately I didn’t leave anything behind.” Other items included the textbooks that she had to hand. “At home, I only had the ones that I’d taken back that weekend to do my homework. So I brought them out as well as my laptop, and now they’re sending me what they’re covering in class by email.”

Smiling at the thought, Hernandez admitted that her friends have not stopped reminding her how fortunate she is. “They say to me: ‘how lucky are you, all the way out there while we’re still in class’.” Her mother was not so thrilled with the news. “When I got called up, the first thing she said, apart from congratulations, was: ‘Ah, your studies!’” Indeed, Hernandez is missing some exams but will take them on her return.

Nervous beginnings and happy endings Hernandez's days are now crammed full of hard work, camaraderie, and unique experiences. “On the day of my World Cup debut, I was warming up and when they told me that I was going to be brought on I remember that I got really emotional” she said. After that first taste of action against New Zealand, Hernandez then started against Mexico. “At first, I was nervous," she said with a smile. "But my team-mates encouraged me and I managed to relax.” Pina could empathise: “Nerves are always there," she said, "but once the whistle blows, they go. Before the match with Germany, when they were announcing the line-up and I heard my name, I couldn’t wait.”

Hernandez had to watch almost the whole game from the bench. “It was horrible for everyone there," she said. "It’s much harder on the sidelines, but when we scored the two goals we could see ourselves in the semi-finals.” As for Pina, she ran her heart out for the whole 90 minutes. “The truth is, we really wanted to give it everything against Germany,” she said.

And what about their next opponents? Both players are aware that the challenge lying ahead is by no means an easy one. “Japan are a bit of a bogey team for us in this tournament, but if we play like we did in the quarter-finals then we can win,” said Hernandez. “It’s a one-off match, and anything can happen. We’ll concentrate on our own game,” agreed Pina.

Neither player was part of the Spain squad that reached the final of the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Costa Rica 2014, only to lose 2-0 to the Little Nadeshiko. Nor were any of the current squad, so instead of dwelling on what has gone before, the duo are now looking to turn the page, and are even daring to dream of glory. “We have to give it our all. I can picture myself as a world champion,” said Hernandez with a smile. Neither she nor Pina expected to be in Jordan but both are now determined to give the best surprise the perfect ending.