Unbeaten Brazil claim women's Copa AmÃ©rica but everyone leaves happy
Women's football Unbeaten Brazil claim womenâs Copa AmÃ©rica but everyone leaves happy
Brazil met expectations but hosts Chile, who have now qualified for the World Cup, hope to have transformed womenâs football in the country
Over two weeks in Chile, South Americaâs finest female footballers faced off in the Copa AmÃ©rica Femenina. The tournament was a huge success thanks to the efforts of the players promoting the w omenâs game on and off the pitch. The authorities watched in amazement at the continentâs overwhelmingly positive reaction.
Brazil won all their games en route to a seventh title. The chemistry between the experienced Marta and Cristiane, who have played together since they were teenagers, was the catalyst, while Formiga, in her 23rd year wearing the yellow jersey, commanded the midfield, with veterans aided by the younger players such as Bia and Monica.
In seven matches, 13 Brazilians scored, a sign of their squad depth. The success of Brazil surprised no one; all of their squad play professionally in leagues across the world, whereas their opponents, for the most part, do not make a living from football.From the ashes: South American women rise again for the Copa AmÃ©rica Femenina Read more
Brazilâs dominance stems from an immense pool of talent, often developed abroad, and decades of work at grassroots level, something the other nations are having to play catch-up with. Officials banned womenâs football from 1941 to 1981, to protect them from the âdangersâ of the sport. Despite that, women continued to play in secret.
They have since faced a battle to create stable leagues and garner resources from their federation. Their dominance in the Copa AmÃ©rica is not down to national investment in the womenâs game nor the federationâs support. Cristianeâs public retirement last year arrived with a letter from players to the federation, painting a damning portrait of mistreatment.
This Copa AmÃ©rica was the most exciting, a tremendous achievement considering most of the 10 teams were âinactiveâ less than two years ago. The momentum of collective protests and new initiatives laid the foundations for the gameâs revival.
Chile defeated Argentina 4-0 on Sunday to secure a remarkable second-place finish in the final stageâs four-team group. Chileâs players were buoyed by hosting the tou rnament and it sends the country to the Womenâs World Cup for the first time. After years of disarray, Chilean players formed a union in 2016. The first of its kind in the region, Anjuff (The National Association of Womenâs Football Players) created alliances with the male playersâ union, NGOs and clubs.
Chile bid for the Copa AmÃ©rica in the hope of creating a new fanbase for womenâs football there. Although initially upset that the tournament would not be held in the national stadium in Santiago, the women recognised the opportunity to connect with the provinces, playing at two grounds in the north-west of the country. For the first time the entire tournament was televised, the team prepared thoroughly and attendances were impressive. Camila GarcÃa, a FIFPro board member and founding member of Anjuff, believes there is a great appetite for the sport on the continent.
âThe Copa has shown there is massive audience interest,â she said. âNow, thanks to La Roja [the Chile national team] everyone looks at the womenâs game differently. They deserve not to be stereotyped and more attention paid to their talent.â The general secretary of the Chilean Federation, SebastiÃ¡n Moreno, agreed: âDespite assumptions that the Cup would generate little interest, the experience has proven the complete opposite.â Moreno explained that the federation planned to capitalise by modernising the league, offering players contracts and securing medical insurance.
The final match between Chile and Argentina pitted two teams against one another who have suffered similar problems. For most of the players, Sundayâs game was the most important of their lives. Chileâs defensive line was stoic, led by the goalkeeper and captain, Cristiane Endler, and the centre-back Carla Guerrero. Argentina face a play-off game against a team from Concacaf to qualify for the World Cup in France next year. While disappointed, they have no reason to be as hamed.Lieke Martens: âRonaldinho was my idol. Long hair, great dribbles â¦ I loved himâ | Suzanne Wrack Read more
Brought together a few weeks before the tournament, Argentina were unable to count on much support. Six months ago the team held a strike because their training fee â" less than Â£9 â" went unpaid. Yet from the start they showed determination, with convincing wins over Bolivia and Ecuador. In their first match, Soledad Jaimes adapted a gesture from the menâs game during her goal celebration. Jaimes cupped her ear, to say: âI canât hear you paying attention.â The team took the symbol for their group photo.
Colombia, who have appeared in the previous two World Cups, went home disheartened with a fourth-place finish. They started well and Catalina Usme was the tournamentâs leading scorer. In the final phase they lost steam and missed the leadership of their injured captain, Natalia GaitÃ¡n.
Colombia had reasons for optim ism. This year marked the inaugural season of the countryâs professional womenâs league. Following a defeat by Brazil on Sunday, journalists were quick to criticise the squad, with El Tiempoâs sports editor describing their performance as âinexcusableâ. It seems hardly fair given that the team went nearly a year without a coach and faced superior competition.
Even those who exited early expressed their enthusiasm for the tournament. Ecuadorâs Suany Fajardo registered surprise at the level of play and the organisation, saying: âWhichever team will go on to the World Cup, I think theyâll make a good run at it.â The Uruguay forward Sindy RamÃrez agreed: âThis tournament was quite competitive, it shows womenâs football is on the rise and getting the attention it deserves.â RamÃrezâs team-mate Yamila Badell expressed delight at full stadiums and saw it as a testament to previously unfulfilled potential.
It is easy to bemoan the state of womenâs football in South America, but it is an image the players want to move away from, with or without the help of the governing bodies. They are willing to sacrifice their financial well-being and their bodies to represent their countries. Despite innumerable frustrations, most describe the experience as a dream come true. Hopefully their national associations and Conmebol, the regional federation, are listening. The message is clear: get on board, or get out of the way.Topics
- Women's football
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