When Celia Segura scored her second goal in the final, she ran to the bench, grabbed a cuddly toy, placed it on her head, and smiled amidst the team’s celebration. This gesture was for her teammate, Silvia Cristóbal, who had been injured in the semi-final. Segura had promised to celebrate her goal with Cristóbal’s favorite animal, an octopus, to cheer her up.

Eight nations gathered in sunny Malmö and Lund, Sweden, to compete in the U-17 Euros, with three spots at the U-17 World Cup in the Dominican Republic at stake. The tournament, featuring group stages, semi-finals, and a final, is crucial for gaining international experience. Star players like Aitana Bonmatí and Leah Williamson honed their skills here, while young talents such as Lena Oberdorf and Vicky López have already made their mark at the senior level.

Despite Germany’s long-standing dominance in youth football, they failed to qualify for this tournament. Spain, however, has been nurturing talent for over a decade. This commitment has only recently translated into significant success. The team’s camaraderie, exemplified by Segura’s octopus celebration, is a key factor in their achievements. “We’ve spent a lot of time together and get along very well as a group,” Segura said, proudly wearing her gold medal after their 4-0 victory over England in the final.

The tournament showcased impressive technical skills and rapid play, resulting in high-scoring matches. This performance captivated audiences and underscored the importance of effective coaching. Spain’s manager, Kenio Gonzalo, praised his team for their adaptability and ball control, traits that reflect Spain’s football philosophy. Spain’s success is evident as they currently hold World Cup titles at U-17, U-20, and senior levels.

Alba Cerrato and Celia Segura were standout performers, scoring 12 goals between them in five games. When asked about competition for goals, Segura and Cerrato, who are roommates, emphasized their teamwork both on and off the pitch. Spain’s depth in attack, with players like Ainoa Gómez and Lua Calo, means they are not solely reliant on Cerrato and Segura for goals.

The rising popularity of women’s football was evident as broadcasters like BBC Sport and Swedish state television aired the matches. The Sweden-England game in Lund attracted a record crowd of 2,380, the highest attendance for a girls’ youth international match in Sweden. For the Swedish team, playing at home was particularly special. “It’s a dream come true to lead your country in front of this crowd,” said Sweden’s captain, Alice Broman.

Despite Sweden’s struggles, losing all three group games, England’s Isabella Fisher emerged as a star, with young fans seeking her autograph even after a 5-1 loss to Sweden. Hosting the Euros in 2022 has boosted England’s profile in women’s football. Former Sweden U-23 coach Yvonne Ekroth highlighted the importance of hosting championships for increasing interest.

A decade ago, Sweden could compete with top teams like Spain, but the landscape has changed. Ekroth recalled Sweden’s victory over Spain in the 2013 U-17 Euros semi-final, a hard-fought game won on penalties. Although Sweden lost the final to Poland, the experience proved valuable, helping them win the U-19 Euros in 2015 against Spain.

Since then, Sweden has not won a youth-level medal. Ekroth noted that Spain’s success stems from less gender segregation at an early age, suggesting that Sweden needs to balance access and competitiveness. The Swedish Football Federation is reviewing the competition structure for girls and women aged 13 to 23, considering allowing girls’ teams to compete in boys’ leagues. Regular senior football experience is also crucial, as emphasized by former player Emma Holmgren.

While Spain emerged as the ultimate victor, all participants gained valuable experience and unforgettable memories. Fans witnessed top-tier football from emerging talents, and Spain’s playful yet formidable approach sets a high bar for others to meet.