Winds of change in South America
There are unquestionably changes afoot in South American women’s football. While it is true that Brazil’s overall dominance does not seem in jeopardy, at least in the short term, events in recent years have provided plenty of food for thought for all involved. In this category would be Colombia’s charge to fourth spot at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Germany 2010 and historic first appearances at FIFA women’s youth finals for the likes of Venezuela, Chile and Uruguay.
For a closer look at this phenomenon, FIFA.com spoke exclusively with three key figures in the South American women’s game. The trio agreed to give their insight on their respective national teams’ current situation, as well as a wider view on the present and future prospects of the discipline in the region.
Narrowing the gap
Brazil have won all the South American Women’s Championships played since 2010, which in itself is nothing new, but it is the identities of those nations finishing on their heels that has produced the most significant changes. And while performances vary across the age categories, in general terms Colombia have made the biggest impact.
In addition to the aforementioned fourth place at Germany 2010, Las Cafeteras reached the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™ and have qualified for this year’s Women’s Olympic Football Tournament and FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.
“Brazil are still ahead of the pack, there’s no doubt of that,” said Ricardo Rozo, the coach in charge of all of Colombia’s women’s national teams. “Then, without blowing our own trumpet, I think we’re next in line. And we’re not as far behind as before: we’ve gradually been chipping away at the belief that nobody can match Brazilian women’s football. That’s what the results show, even though they [Brazil] continue to win.”
So, what does Rozo believe is the recipe for Las Cafeteras’ progress? “Keeping a long-term project in place,” was his verdict.
That hypothetical second spot in the region used to be the preserve of Argentina, as experienced Albiceleste defender Eva Gonzalez told us. “It’s true, but Colombia were already achieving interesting things and now they’ve established themselves,” said the 25-year-old, who has not appeared at a FIFA tournament with her country since the Olympics at Beijing 2008. “Colombia are even catching up to the Brazilians, who perhaps aren’t progressing at the rate they should be. As for us, we’re really struggling and we’re going through a period of stagnation.”
However, Gonzalez refused to let her own nation’s travails blur the bigger picture. “In general terms, I get the sense that women’s football in South America is on the up,” continued the Argentinian. “A few years ago we’d take on the likes of Uruguay and Chile knowing that we’d beat them, but that’s over now. Not that they just try and match us now: they come and really go for the win. You can tell that there’s a sustainable planning project going on.”
Success at youth level
Even though Chile and Uruguay’s senior teams have yet to qualify for a FIFA Women’s World Cup, both have enjoyed success at U-17 level. The former joined Venezuela at Trinidad and Tobago 2010, while the latter will be one of the region’s representatives at Azerbaijan 2012. Moreover, Uruguay’s ticket came courtesy of finishing runners-up in the South American qualifying tournament, a result that surprised both Rozo and Gonzalez.
“That’s understandable, given that we’d won just a solitary game in our previous participations,” said Celeste coach Graciela Rebollo. “What surprised me even more was our 7-2 win over Ecuador in our opening match. Results like that occur less and less in South America, where there’s a lot more parity. It’s not like before when one team might be routed in every game. Not even Brazil run up sensational scorelines in all their games,” she added.
For the 43-year-old coach, who has been in charge of the U-17s since July 2011, there are two key ingredients to the team’s success. “On one hand, having a homogenous coaching staff working diligently for eight months has been very significant. I didn’t ask for a set number of professionals, but the Uruguayan Football Association put together a full team, consisting of an assistant, a fitness coach, a psychologist, a physiotherapist and a doctor. The second factor was being able to capitalise on a good generation of players.”
Rebollo also praised the work Venezuela, Ecuador, Paraguay and Argentina are doing with their age-category players, singling out the latter, who she says “seem gradually to be regaining their status as a force to be reckoned with”. Rozo agreed with his Uruguayan counterpart on this point, claiming, “It’s no coincidence Argentina have qualified for the next U-20 World Cup and that their U-17 team made it to the final round of the South American qualifying tournament.”
When it comes to women’s football as a whole, however, the trio agree that South America is still some way behind Europe, North America and Asia. “Perhaps if they increased the number of [South American] berths for the World Cups, like they did with at U-17 level, you could have a better gauge of the strength of the region,” said Rozo.
On the same issue, Rebollo stressed how important it was to have had three qualification berths, and not two, for Azerbaijan: “Things like that can give impetus to our projects.” Gonzalez, meanwhile, praised the organisation of the Copa Libertadores Femenina, saying, “This competition is very useful for assessing what level you and the other teams are at.”
The coaches were also largely in agreement that cultural barriers have been broken down, enabling more and more women to practice the sport and continually improve. Before signing off, the trio spoke of the necessity to take advantage of this situation, citing the need to “commit resources to training academies, increase investment in infrastructure, compete and put long-term plans into place”.
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