Copa America Femenina: Spots up for Grabs in Latin America for the Women’s FIFA World Cup, the Olympics, and Panamerican Games
Every four years, ten South American nations compete in the crucial qualifiers that decide destiny and partaking for upcoming tournaments – the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the Olympics, and Panamerican Games.
April 4th marked the start of the western hemisphere’s most important women’s soccer tournament, the Copa America. I had the opportunity to represent Colombia in the 2014 edition that was hosted in Ecuador, where we earned second place and qualified for all three of the other major international tournaments.
The champion will be the only nation to automatically qualify for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The runners-up will rsvp to the World Cup but will have to face-off against the second-place of the African Olympic qualifiers in an additional playoff round for a chance of Olympic qualification. Meanwhile, the third place finisher of the Copa America will have a playoff go at the third-placed CONCACAF qualifier team for a World Cup spot while fourth place will be doomed with no World Cup possibility. Additionally, both third and fourth place teams will play in the 2019 Panamerican Games to be hosted in Lima. Going into the final stage, the four teams have high expectations to win the first game which is by far the most important because each team will only have three games to deem destiny. It is vital to kick-off this stage with a big win to both set the course and accrue goals in case there is a head-to-head that would be determined by goal difference.
Now, with Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Peru knocked out of the tournament; the stake is up for grabs for Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, and Chile. The premature knockout of Ecuador depicts the lack of development of Ecuadorian women’s soccer since their first World Cup stage appearance in 2015. I spoke with Ecuadorian international Giannina Lattanzio and asked her opinion on the country’s progress in terms of soccer development after competing in the FIFA World Cup. She stated, “After the World Cup we saw a huge increase of female participation in the sport! However, we have lacked representation and support. The majority of us players are not professionals and we only compete for short periods of time.” Just four years ago, they won the 3rd place slot of the Copa America tournament and later beat Trinidad and Tobago in the playoff round to qualify for the World Cup. Unfortunately, Ecuador having being eliminated in the early stages will see little hope of any near future women’s soccer action, or upcoming high level FIFA appearances.
The most shocking knockout, in my opinion, was Venezuela. Most of all of Venezuela’s national team are currently competing in the highly competitive Colombian Women’s professional league. With the talents of Nubiluz Rangel, Oriana Altuve, and Deyna Castellanos, Venezuela was supposed to be one of the major hopeful contenders going into the second round. Also, I was hoping to see Deyna, a Best Women’s FIFA player nominee, as well as a top player at Florida State University, compete in the globe’s biggest soccer stage.
Venezuela’s upsetting elimination is a testament to truly how difficult and exciting the second round is shaping out to be. Brazil has a tremendously experienced team with Marta, Debinha, Cristiane, Andressa, Andressinha, and let’s not forget to mention Formiga who is still competing at the highest level, at age forty! Marta, who is a five-time FIFA World Player of the Year, has not seen much match-action so far, as the Brazilians perhaps have been saving her for this crucial second round. Brazil is the current Copa America six-title record holder and defending champion beating us, Colombia, four years ago by point differential. Furthermore, they have scored 23 goals since the start of the Copa and are certainly favoured to win. However, Colombia has proven time and time again that this tournament is up for grabs. After speaking with defender Isabella Echeverri, she confidently stated “we are going for first place. We are tired of being second place for the last two Copa Americas and it is time for Colombia to win something big. We are focused on what we are doing on the pitch to make this happen”. The style of play has been an excellent fit for las cafeteras under Colombian Head Coach Nelson Abadia, who has implemented a more organized attacking mindset as opposed to his predecessors. And, although the team is missing a few veterans this tournament, key players such as Catalina Usme (current leading scorer), Yoreli Rincon, Daniela Montoya, Liana Salazar, Leicy Santos, Diana Ospina, and Isabela Echeverri are surely making their presence felt. Colombia has scored 16 goals so far with Catalina Usme netting an impressive nine. She is definitely a talent to watch!
Chile has improved remarkably over the past years with the guidance of their leader and PSG goalie, Christiane Endler, in addition to Yanara Aedo being their key forward. I believe Chile is a huge threat since they also have home-field advantage and some great momentum coming into this next round thanks to their great local fan base! Argentina may be looked at as the dark horse, but they are surely not to be underestimated. They were able to beat Venezuela to earn the second place spot out of the group stage, and with experienced players such as Florencia Jaimes and Estefania Banini (currently playing for Washington Spirit) the Gauchas will certainly be looking to reclaim their spot among the South American elite.
The Copa America has greatly improved since the last CONMEBOL event in 2014. It is very inspiring to see a movement to develop women’s soccer beginning to take effect on the continental level. Previously, matches were not even televised, whereas this year’s entire event has been broadcasted live on TV Chile and CONMEBOL Copa America Femenina’s Facebook page. Furthermore, there is an entire website dedicated to the tournament’s coverage on www.cafemchile2018.cl. I remember us players having to keep track of our points and tournament stats just a few years back! To add to the excitement we now see professional photographers and social media pages dedicating time and resources to the event. It gives me great pride to say, CONMEBOL has made some great progress, although there is a lot of opportunity to further grow. Unfortunately, there are still federations out there that do not provide appropriate support to our women’s teams. It isn’t rare to hear that teams are not being paid, while others only train a few times a week prior to competition. If the women’s game is to further build on, there must be some more fundamental change. These are national team soccer players, and they must receive equal support men’s teams obtain from their federations. FIFA allocates women’s and youth development funds to each federation, but we are often left with the question as to how and where these funds are being utilized.
Olympic Athlete | Professional Soccer Player | Colombian Women’s National Team #5 / Seleccion Colombia Femenina