Saturday 15 June 2019, 23:37

Bonmati: I'd hit the boys back in school

  • Aitana Bonmati discusses the ‘mental barrier’ of being a small footballer

  • She outlines three keys to Spain reaching the Round of 16

  • Follow the Live Blog for #CHNESP

By Elisa Revuelta with Spain

“That girl’s quick, you know!”

The 'girl' in question is Olympique Lyonnais and Netherlands left-wingback Shanice Van de Sanden, one of the most powerful players in world football, though Aitana Bonmati was not thinking about that at the time.

“The only thing I was thinking was, ‘They’re not going to put another goal past us’.” With that in mind, the Spaniard embarked on a sprint of nearly 70 metres that saw her power past the Dutch star with something to spare. It was a moment that came in the 61st minute of this year’s UEFA Women’s Champions League final, a match in which Bonmati’s Barcelona side were trailing 4-0 at the time, though they did manage a late consolation.

Bonmati’s supercharged sprint went viral online, though what made the match truly important for her was that it taught her a few things about herself. And less than a month later she is proving to be one of the most effective performers in Jorge Vilda’s Spain side at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™.

The lowdown on Aitana Bonmati

  • Aged 21, creative midfielder

  • Club: FC Barcelona, a product of La Masia

  • Scored 12 goals in 20 league appearances this year

  • A starter in the UEFA Women's Champions League final

  • A runner up with Spain at the FIFA U-17 and U-20 Women’s World Cups

  • 15 senior caps

“It was like a mental barrier. I’d think about how small I am (5ft 4ins) and how young I am. Sometimes I’d get scared just thinking about playing in a big match and how I’d manage. But I played against the best team in the world and I proved to myself that I can play the tough matches, like the one against Germany the other day and all the tough games to come.”

In Spain’s opening France 2019 match against South Africa, Bonmati came on in the second half, along with Lucia Garcia and Nahikari Garcia, and played a decisive role as they came from behind to win 3-1. So well did she perform, in fact, that FIFA Legend Vero Boquete, who was watching from the stands, singled her out for praise: “I especially liked what Aitana had to offer in the midfield.” She came on to good effect against the Germans too, injecting fresh energy in the Spain side, albeit without any reward.

Bags of character

If Bonmati proved anything in her youth career with Spain it is that her apparent physical fragility is just that: apparent. Aside from her technique and vision, the midfielder is not short on character.

She laughed as she recalled her early days: “Yes, but that comes from way back, from when I started to play, because I started playing with the boys at school and they used to insult me. I didn’t let anyone walk all over me though. If they insulted me, I’d come back at them even harder, and if they hit me, I hit them back. It was because of that I grew up being competitive and having attitude and ambition.”

Spain v Nigeria: Group  - FIFA U-20 Women's  World Cup France 2018 Quarter Final - Aitana Bonmati of Spain celebrates her team's first goal

Spain’s problems in front of goal: a mental block?

Spain face a make-or-break match against China PR on Monday, a game that will decide their fate at France 2019. If they are to get the draw or the win that will seal their place in the Round of 16, La Roja will need to improve their wayward finishing, an aspect of the game where they continue to struggle.

Though Bonmati does not believe the problem is “psychological”, she refused to gloss over it: “The scoring problem is there for everyone to see. I’m not going to lie and say, ‘No, we’re a great team that takes every chance it gets.' We can create chances, but as soon as we get in the box, we seem to lose our focus. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up about it though, because we will sort it out.”

The recipe for success against China

  1. Aggressiveness: “We have to be more aggressive than them. We were very aggressive against Germany, especially in the first half, and we won all the second balls.”

  2. Competitiveness: “We have to be at our very best.”

  3. Directness: “We have to move the ball around very fast, not take too many touches and be direct. We need to believe we can score, and we will score.”