Ice-cold Abel Ruiz breaks French hearts from the spot

Abel Ruiz doesn't remember the first time he took a penalty. He is standing in the mixed zone of the Indira Gandhi Stadium bewildered at the question which has just been translated into Spanish.

He is freshly scrubbed, with freckles, a little red around the nose with some teenage acne and wide brown eyes, carrying a large JBL speaker. It is then that you are reminded that Ruiz, at the centre of the biggest moment of the night that threw Guwahati into a wild frenzy, is just a boy.

He is 17, the age of sons and nephews and the cheeky kid on the street. He had somehow found himself under the white, hot lights of the Indira Gandhi Athetica Stadium in front of French goalkeeper Yahia Fofana, watched by a screaming mass of more than 13000 people, as well as his team-mates behind him holding their breath.

"I can't remember the first time I took a penalty," he says and grins. "But the most important one I've taken was this one."

In the 90th minute of the Under-17 World Cup pre-quarterfinal. Ruiz stepped up and took a few steps towards the ball. It is a still, sticky night and nothing is moving. Fofana goes to his left, Ruiz goes the same way, but beyond the keeper's reach, and then everything explodes. The crowd shrieks, cheers and claps, 13000 throats finding release.

Ruiz dashes into a corner, his team-mates pile on top of him and Spain enter the quarter-final of the World Cup in what is their first appearance in the competition since 2009.

The penalty did not merely defeat Spain's old rivals France, but stomped on their hearts and snatched away the match in the very last minute before injury time. It is the second time Ruiz had broken French resistance - the last time the two teams met, Ruiz had converted a penalty, Spain's second goal in a 3-1 victory in the quarter-finals of the U-17 European Championship in Croatia.

Tuesday night was Ruiz versus Fofana again in a distant part of India, thousands of miles away from home. Ruiz said he was reminded of the match in Croatia all over again. He remembered how that had turned out.

"I had studied the keeper a little bit and it did remind me because of him." He then did, what he says he always did. "The idea is to pick up the ball with confidence and look at him in the eye and shoot with confidence."

Ruiz is now the highest Under-17 scorer for his country - this was his third goal of the event, but he's not counting. "The records and data are always there but it is important that I scored the penalty in the 90th minute which helped my team today to move forward."

The penalty can be both a thing of horror and a ticket to freedom. Spain were set free and this French team must suffer these nightmares. The game till then had been building up towards the first penalty shoot-out of this World Cup. The coaches had wiped their faces and begun to ring in the changes. Penalty-taking expert Nacho Diaz had been brought on by Spain with three minutes to go. Squeaky-bum time you felt was coming.

The substitutes would play their part, but not like the coaches expected. As Jose Lara sprinted down the right trying to create one final opening, he was pushed by Oumar Solet and went down in the penalty box. Was the penalty justified or was it not?

For France, it was too late to care.

The match ended with the Spanish players and support staff in a state of delirium at the opportunity of a step further in the competition and the French players collapsed on the turf in dismay. Their captain Claudio Gomes stood in the middle of the pitch and couldn't accept his coach's consoling arm.

William Bianda ripped off his shirt and walked off the pitch wanting to get away from the world. Solet, the defender whose error had conceded the 90th minute penalty, was a forlorn figure, tears, muttered curses, no commiserations, no company, nothing to prevent him from knowing that he would be carrying the burden of yet another early French exit from the U-17 World Cup.

The French dressing room was to echo with banging doors, kicked pieces of kit, fists knocking things over. The Spanish dressing room next door was to offer thumping music.

When French coach Lionel Rouxel answered questions at his press conference, it sounded like he was dealing with a bereavement. His face is sallow, his voice is low.

"It is very difficult to lose this match right at the end - the penalty is very difficult to accept. I think if we'd gone to penalties, it would be more fair for us."

He is taking deep breaths and trying to compose himself when talking about the doom of the 90th minute. "It is cruel. They are 17 years old, but you don't have to do mistake in the penalty area." Solet he said would learn from this bitter night.

In the last 10 minutes of the match, no less than three French players had asked for themselves to be substituted, Rouxel said, because "for the first time in this event" Spain had run them into the ground by their pace and intensity.

Rouxel knew a few things from this game. The first was about his players: "I am very proud of my players. I think they are good boys, good players, they have a good mentality, they want to be good professionals and I hope we see them in the first division."

The second was about Spain. "They will go far in the tournament, they are well balanced, good in attack and defence." He said that while the margin between the two sides had reduced from when they had met in Croatia, once again, "the penalty kick at the end would have been fair."

He meant a shoot-out, but Spain were happy to have to deal with just the single.