From almost playing for Nigeria to winning World Cup with Spain - the Vicky Lopez story

Born to a Nigerian mother and a Spanish father, the Barcelona forward played a crucial part as Spain became the first country to defend the U-17 Women’s World Cup.

Published : Oct 31, 2022 13:10 IST , NAVI MUMBAI

Spanish player Vicky Lopez with the Golden Ball after the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup final in Navi Mumbai on Sunday.
Spanish player Vicky Lopez with the Golden Ball after the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup final in Navi Mumbai on Sunday. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Spanish player Vicky Lopez with the Golden Ball after the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup final in Navi Mumbai on Sunday. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

When Spain beat Colombia to win the 2022 U-17 Women’s World Cup at the D.Y. Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai on Sunday, it became the first country to defend the title successfully.

Unlike its previous spell in 2018, Los Furious Roja has had a different sort of journey in India, scoring half the number of goals (six) it did four years ago. The player who has been the architect of attacks for the team has been a 16-year-old from Barcelona – Vicky Lopez.

“Winning a World Cup was one of my dreams,” she said, after the match.

“Nigeria is still an option but no one from the Federation has contacted us,” her father, Jesus Lopez-Serrano Perez, had told in June last year. “It would make Vicky very excited if she receives a call-up to play for Nigeria, but it is very likely that in September she will be called up for the Women’s U17 EURO qualifiers.”

The call-up for Flamingoes never arrived and Lopez ended up playing for Spain at the U-17 women’s European Championships, where she didn’t just become an engine in attack but also scored on her debut in the EUROs.

Spain finished as the runner-up at the U-17 European Championship, but on a day when Lopez lifted the World Cup, her ‘second home’, Nigeria, also secured a win – a well-fought 3-2 win against Germany in the bronze medal match.

“When I found out that Nigeria won and after the game went into the penalty shootout, it was very encouraging for me. It helped me in my finals,” she said.

Lopez attracted attention while playing football on the beaches of Benidorm – a town where Alfredo Ulloa, the president of the football club, Madrid CFF, also happened to spend his summer. Alfredo signed her for the youth team in 2018 and she has not looked back since.

In 2019, Lopez scored a hat-trick in the final of La Liga Promises Femenina, helping her team win the title as she won the Golden Boot.

In the 2020-21 season, with 60 goals in 17 matches, Lopez became the promised youngster of Spanish football, as the U-17 Spanish national team came calling.

The Barcelona player has had four key contributions (two goals, one assist and one key pass) in Spain’s seven goals in the tournament, including two crucial goals against Japan in the quarterfinals, which saw her team make it to the semis.

In the finals, the forward – expected to lead the attack – donned a different hat, that of a holding midfielder to keep the opponent guessing. Instead, Cristina Libran, Laia Martret and Paula Partido strengthened the Spanish arsenal.

“We are very fortunate because Vicky adapts very well to several positions,” Spain’s head coach Kenio Gonzalo said, talking about her presence on the pitch.

“I have talked about this with her for a long time. She’s working very hard and she knows that she needs to find the positions where she can hurt the opponent. And she’s one of those players who’s able to take a deep breath, look around and see what’s happening. Then she is also able to generate great football,” he added.

Spain saw the emergence of a star in Claudio Pina in the last edition of the U-17 Women’s World Cup, when the forward won the Golden Ball, steering her side to its first World Cup title.

Four years later, when La Furia Roja defended the title, Lopez rose to the occasion – winning the World Cup as well as the Golden Ball.

“I’m very proud of the work that they’ve done. By training with my fellow players, I have learned so much,” says Lopez, “I try to get their advice. They support me and I’m always so excited to come to the Under-17 national team and give it my all.”

The baton from Pina to Lopez happened at the club level as well.

Signing for Barcelona Femeni in July 2022, she made her senior debut at the age of 16 years, 1 month and 19 days against Granadilla Tenerife FC – replacing Pina as the youngest debutant for Barca.

Now, she plays with two of her idols there – one from Nigeria (Asisat Oshoala) and the other from Spain (Alexia Putellas) and has a contract till 2027.

The slogan of the U-17 Women’s World Cup was ‘Kick Off the Dream’.

Lopez, starring for Barcelona and winning the World Cup with Spain has made her the perfect emissary of it – settling well in a global tournament away from home, and realising her ‘dream’ as the perfect cherry on top.

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