Unbeaten Brazil claim women's Copa América but everyone leaves happy

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Unbeaten Brazil claim women's Copa América but everyone leaves happy

Women's football Unbeaten Brazil claim women’s Copa América but everyone leaves happy

Brazil met expectations but hosts Chile, who have now qualified for the World Cup, hope to have transformed women’s football in the country

Brazil celebrate winning the women’s Copa America in Chile on 22 April.
Brazil celebrate winning the women’s Copa America in Chile on 22 April. Photograph: Brenda Elsey

Over two weeks in Chile, South America’s finest female footballers faced off in the Copa América Femenina. The tournament was a huge success thanks to the efforts of the players promoting the w omen’s game on and off the pitch. The authorities watched in amazement at the continent’s 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.

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Brazil’s 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 women’s football from 1941 to 1981, to protect them from the ‘dangers’ 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 América is not down to national investment in the women’s game nor the federation’s support. Cristiane’s public retirement last year arrived with a letter from players to the federation, painting a damning portrait of mistreatment.

This Copa América was the most exciting, a tremendous achievement considering most of the 10 teams were “inactive” less than two years ago. The momentum of collective protests and new initiatives laid the foundations for the game’s revival.

Chile defeated Argentina 4-0 on Sunday to secure a remarkable second-place finish in the final stage’s four-team group. Chile’s players were buoyed by hosting the tou rnament and it sends the country to the Women’s 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 Women’s Football Players) created alliances with the male players’ union, NGOs and clubs.

Chile bid for the Copa América in the hope of creating a new fanbase for women’s 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 García, a FIFPro board member and founding member of Anjuff, believes there is a great appetite for the sport on the continent.

“The Copa has shown there is massive audience interest,” she said. “Now, thanks to La Roja [the Chile national team] everyone looks at the women’s game differently. They deserve not to be stereotyped and more attention paid to their talent.” The general secretary of the Chilean Federation, Sebastián Moreno, agreed: “Despite assumptions that the Cup would generate little interest, the experience has proven the complete opposite.” 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, Sunday’s game was the most important of their lives. Chile’s 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.

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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 £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 men’s game during her goal celebration. Jaimes cupped her ear, to say: “I can’t hear you paying attention.” 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 tournament’s leading scorer. In the final phase they lost steam and missed the leadership of their injured captain, Natalia Gaitán.

Colombia had reasons for optim ism. This year marked the inaugural season of the country’s professional women’s league. Following a defeat by Brazil on Sunday, journalists were quick to criticise the squad, with El Tiempo’s sports editor describing their performance as “inexcusable”. 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. Ecuador’s Suany Fajardo registered surprise at the level of play and the organisation, saying: “Whichever team will go on to the World Cup, I think they’ll make a good run at it.” The Uruguay forward Sindy Ramírez agreed: “This tournament was quite competitive, it shows women’s football is on the rise and getting the attention it deserves.” Ramírez’s 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 women’s 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.

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Source: Google News South Brazil | Netizen 24 Brazil

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