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Salma Paralluelo’s magical World Cup: Meet Spain’s breakout star

Spain's Salma Paralluelo celebrates after scoring the first goal of Tuesday's World Cup semifinal win against Sweden. (Phil Walter/Getty Images)

For a second consecutive game, Salma Paralluelo entered a World Cup match as a substitute for Spain. And for the second consecutive game, she made the most of the opportunity.

The 19-year-old forward scored the first goal of Spain’s semifinal against Sweden in the 81st minute to give her team the lead. La Roja went on to win 2-1, advancing to their first-ever World Cup final.

“It was a magic moment,” Paralluelo said after the victory. “I feel extremely proud. All of us are extremely proud of the work we’re doing. We’re just one step away from glory.”

For Spain, Paralluelo is creating much of the magic. She scored her second goal in as many games against Sweden after notching the game-winner against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals. It has been a World Cup to remember for the former track star.

She took up both soccer and track at 7 years old. She excelled in the 400-meter hurdles, and she may even have made a run at the Olympics, but she ultimately chose soccer.

“I always saw myself reaching for the top in both sports,” Paralluelo told FIFA last year. “That’s why I wanted to keep on doing them. I’ve been told that I’ve got a body that’s made for athletics, but in football they say that I’ve got great fitness and physique and an ability to learn when it comes to training. I’ve always felt 100% in both.”

Injuries played a role in her decision her to step away from the track, forcing her to pick one sport. But she doesn’t regret the decision, she told FIFA.

“It’s my way of life, my way of having fun and expressing myself. Football is everything,” she said.

“The thing is, if you want to achieve great things, you have to commit yourself to one sport, which is how things turned out that year,” she continued. “It was frustrating for me because I didn’t recover well from my injury and I couldn’t go out and be an athlete again. If I’d carried on, however, I would have lost more than I would have gained.”

And now she has become the second-youngest player to score in a Women’s World Cup semifinal game, following Canada’s Kara Lang in 2003 – who also scored against Sweden. While Spain is missing a number of veteran stars amid a dispute with the national federation, Paralluelo is shining bright for her country in her first World Cup.