Sometimes, when you have a player so gifted, so crafty and so technical, it almost feels illegal to have them on the pitch sometimes. When you then pair that player with other, equally talented teammates, it’s almost like having the cheat codes that fast forward you to the last stages of Final Fantasy (any version).
In Mariona Caldentey, Spain have such a player. When they needed someone to truly take over a game and help them out, Mariona rose to the ocassion; along with some help from Olga Carmona, Salma Paralluelo and Aitana Bonmatí.
Spain had spent most of the first half running backwards, trying to track the runs that Sweden made into the space left behind by the likes of Carmona. It limited Carmona’s influence in the attack and also dulled what Mariona could and can do when given the chance. After half-time, it seems as though Spain found another gear and despite still giving Sweden the chance to catch them out on the break, Mariona’s influence grew and took over the game.
The warning signs for Sweden where there, particularly after Spain made it 2-3 in the 50th minute. Mariona Caldentey drew defenders away from the left-hand side, leaving Olga Carmona to race forward as she lives to do.
With no one tracking the left back, Carmona then found Athenea del Castillo with a great ball across goal and she finished it well. The comeback was on, Caldentey was taking over and it seemed like Sweden were the only ones unaware of what was happening.
Mariona Caldentey’s first, and Spain’s equaliser came from her influence once again to begin the attack. Once again, her ability to read a backline and pull them away from their positions allowed another teammate to profit as Eva Navarro run into space and got on the end of Caldentey’s pass.
After some quick passes, Spain put in a hopeful cross into the box which Hanna Lundkvist should’ve cleared. Instead, the Swedish defender completely missed her header, Caldentey brought down the ball and with Paralluelo bodying her defender away from goal, placed her shot past Jennifer Falk.
Spain, and Mariona Caldentey, weren’t done yet.
They continued to drag Swedish defenders all over the place and continued to test Falk in goal. In that second half, had Falk not been on her toes, Spain could’ve easily run away with an even bigger scoreline than the 5-3 they ended up with.
For their fourth, Caldentey was once again making life hard for the Swedish defenders. Linda Sembrant, perhaps unwisely raced out to challenge her in midfield but Caldentey held her off and then found Paralluelo in space. Sweden’s backline wasn’t in sync and Paralluelo played in Fiamma Benítez who finished really well.
For Spain’s final goal, Sweden were once again caught out. Once Paralluelo raced away, both Caldentey and Aitana Bonmatí trailed behind her, knowing that their teammate would pick out the right pass and either one of them would get a chance on goal. With Spain in a three-on-one break, Paralluelo found Bonmatí who then unselfishly played Caldentey through and the standout player of the half scored her secodn of the night.
When you have a player out wide, for most teams, that player is one of the fastest on the team. For Barcelona, and in this case Spain, Mariona Caldentey isn’t there to race past a defender, or to use trickery to juke past them. Instead, she’s there to drop a shoulder for a pass, or to create space for others to run into that she can then find. Caldentey is one of the premier players in the world at doing just that.
As shown with almost every goal that Spain scored in that second half, Caldentey was at the heart of creating mismatches all over the final third for Spain. She drifts wide or inside, dragging defenders along with her and then has the wherewithall to find the onrushing teammate who’s gone into the space she’s vacated. She also has the strength to hold off a defender, thus allowing her the time to then either shoot or pass, depending on the situation.
Against Sweden, Caldentey’s constant awareness of where the weak points are in a defense was showcased in the best way possible; by helping her country produce a fantastic comeback. As long as she continues on like this, Spain will be a very difficult team to beat and they will feel as confident as anyone of making it to the Olympics for the firt time in their history.