Sandra Paños: "Iker Casillas was my role model"
Spain goalkeeper Sandra Paños looks ahead to tomorrow's second Women's World Cup outing against Germany where they will be looking to maintain their 100% record.
Sandra Paños is in charge of guarding Spain's net at the Women's World Cup. The Barcelona Femení player took time out to chat to AS ahead of tomorrow's encounter with Germany as Jorge Vilda's team aim to preserve their 100% record in Group B, which they sit top of on goal difference. Sandra will be familiar with several players in the opposing team in Valenciennes tomorrow - a number of Bayern Munich players feature in Die Nationalelf, and the Spanish goalkeeper faced them in the Women's Champions League semi-final in April.
You are Spain's first choice goalkeeper at the World Cup and just a few weeks ago you were included in the Champions League Squad of the Season with Alexia [Putellas], [Vicky] Losada and Irene [Paredes] - all of whom are your team mates in the national team. Would you say this is the best moment of your career so far?
It's the reward for all of the hard work that went behind it, and it makes me feel especially proud to be part of that [UEFA] select squad with players from my own club and the national team.
Almost a month has passed since the Champions League final. How do you feel about it now?
We made club history by reaching the final and that is very good for the club and for women's football in Spain in general. It was a bit disappointing how the game turned out for us but it was the first time we had played a major European final - and you always learn from experiences like that. It was an invaluable experience - not everyone gets the chance to play a Champions League final.
Making history with Barcelona Femení
You played a crucial role in the semi-finals against Bayern Munich…
We thought we'd got a great result from the first leg [Barça won 0-1 in Munich]. We had no experience of playing against a German team, especially one like Bayern. We'd watched videos but you never really know how it feels until you are actually out there on the pitch. It was a great team performance. I made three saves which turned out to be decisive - I'm always on call to help the team out however I can. The return leg at home was much more difficult. They were all over us but we able to ride out the pressure. I was lucky enough to make a great save which meant we kept a clean sheet. And we booked our place in the final.
You will be up against several of those Bayern players again tomorrow…
Yes, a few Bayern players are internationals with Germany. I think German players have a very distinct style. They are all quite similar, we know them and we've played against them various times. We know that they have a tremendous amount of quality. They are a very organized team, who play an intense and quick-moving game. I think they are a very complete side and for that reason we have to prepare our own game so that we will know how to defend against them and how we can punish them in attack.
Spain at World Cup France
Do you think Spain have a good chance of beating Germany?
Sure, you can't go into any game thinking you won't get a result. Of course we can beat them, if we didn't think that, they'd be no point playing the game.
What is the strongest attack you have faced?
That's an easy one - Lyon's; Ada Hegerberg (scored 19 minute hat trick in the Champions League final). Le Sommer, Marozsan, Van den Sanden for her pace… They are all players who compete at higher rhythm, a different level.
And what about in Spain, in the Liga Iberdrola?
Jenni [Hermoso] is one of the best, Lucía [García] too. Nahikari [García]. There are several killer finishers in the league. There's also Mariona [Caldentry] - all of them usually put a goal or two past me in training every week (laughs). I've learned a lot from them.
Iker Casillas was the goalkeeper who you based you game on...
I used to watch him playing for the national team when I was a kid, and for Real Madrid when they played Barcelona. One of the things I noticed about him was that, even though he doesn't have a great reach - his arm span isn't big, he still makes great saves. Now I study keepers from all over Spain and the rest of the world. I make a mental note of all the little things they all do. I learn from all of them and it's those details that all come together when I'm out there in goal.
How did you start playing football?
I was introduced to football because both my father and brother were players. I started playing when I was very little, and by the time I was in school I was already playing competitively. After that, I enrolled into the youth team, played futsal and fútbol 7. They didn't let me continue playing with the boys in my class, which is why I had to move into women's football. In Alicante there was a very good side - Plaza Argel, who I got to play for thanks to one of my teachers. I decided to give it a go, there was no other option available to me.
When did you start to see yourself as a professional footballer?
I was earning a wage at Plaza Argel. But obviously, I really noticed the change when I signed for Levante then Barcelona. I have been fortunate enough to be able to make a living out of playing football. On a larger scale I don't think that has become the norm yet.
Your first professional club was Levante, then in 2015 you joined Barcelona...
During the final year of my studies Levante called and I couldn't say no. I'd also received offers from Barcelona and Atlético. I talked it through with my family and we decided on Levante because it was closer to home. I knew that I had to leave Alicante because I wanted to move on and progress.
My dream was always to play for the national team and so I knew I had to take a step up - I had to be playing for a club which is always fighting to win things. I needed to play in the Champions League to build up experience and up the level of my own game. That's what drove me to change club and city.
Taking a step up
What was it like making the switch from Levante to Barcelona?
It was great. I was lucky in that I joined Barça just when the club was in the process of turning the women's section professional so I was around for the nicest part. I've had team mates who have been through much worse moments. It wasn't such a struggle for me because it was all for my own good - and I also had the full support of my family, who travel with me wherever we go. Of course there is always something you miss out on, but the most important thing for me was the support I had. I'm six hour away from home, so they come up to visit me all the time.
Barça were one of the first Spanish clubs to promote and encourage women's football…
I'm at the club which plays the best football, and the one who is most behind women's football. It has everything. We are league champions - it is a club which demands the best of you. We have a team which wants to grow, become better and do better every year and isn't content with the achievements of the previous season. Barcelona has values which are the same as mine, values which we both hold 100%.
During all of this time I bet you have received offers to play at other clubs outside of Spain?
Sure. Every time my contract is up for renewal they are in touch. But I've always been motivated by objectives. I'm where I had to be, in the right place - I really think I've made the best choice.