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Argentina's first World Cup point could prove priceless

China Daily | Updated: 2019-06-12 09:08
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Sole Jaimes and Aldana Cometti jubilation during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group D match between Argentina and Japan at Parc des Princes in Paris, France on June 10, 2019. [Photo/IC]

PARIS - At the final whistle of their Women's World Cup opener on Monday, Argentina's players dropped to their knees as if they'd won the entire tournament.

They didn't even win the game.

But for the first time ever, they didn't lose, either.

Argentina played to a 0-0 draw against 2011 champion and 2015 runner-up Japan to earn its first ever point at a World Cup. Argentina lost its previous six World Cup matches in 2003 and 2007 when it was outscored 33-2 in the process, and missed the 2011 and 2015 tournaments.

For a nation that loves the game and worships its often successful men's team, the draw against Japan can be as good as a win. "I think we can really inspire people a lot," said playmaker Estefania Banini. "We can also start a new process."

Argentina wants far more than points at the World Cup. The bigger goal is to touch more hearts and minds back home.

"For women's football in Argentina it is great that we are starting to flourish," coach Carlos Borrello said. "We are starting on our way and just starting to face up to these powerful forces in football."

Borrello said he hopes for a push for equality between the men's and women's games - and across Argentine society as a whole.

"We have started getting support now from the Argentinian football federation for the team. It's true that results help a lot, and this will definitely help and reinforce all the work," he said.

"It will help us to continue on the great path. We have to also strengthen the grassroots of our game."

Things are changing in Argentina.

Previous concerns about a lack of uniforms and inadequate training conditions have been addressed, two years after players went on strike because stipends went unpaid.

A movement for equality pushed the country's soccer association into giving professional status to the national women's league. This coincided with the country's feminist movement taking to the streets with marches against violence and inequality.

Both national teams are in action this month - and maybe next month if they go far - with the men in Brazil at the Copa America.

Before their respective departures, the two teams met.

Sharing a table were two No 10's - women's captain Banini and five-time Golden Ball winner Lionel Messi, among the all-time greats of the game.

"We were together with Messi and the whole team, the men's and the women's teams," Borrello said. "We had a meal together before we left and were able to exchange together."

The men's team has not won the World Cup since 1986 - its second victory - and won the last of its 14 Copa America titles in 1993.

Hence the understandable relief at holding 2011 champion Japan, evident as players mobbed goalkeeper Vanina Correa.

The 28-year-old Banini, who plays club soccer with Spanish side Levante, hopes this is just the start.

"We can become a national team that aspires to so much more," said Banini, who was voted player of the match against Japan.

"This point is really important for us. I think we're able to reflect upon what Argentina is and what it means to us as a team,"

Argentina on Friday faces England, which labored to a 2-1 win over Scotland in its Group D opener, while Japan will face the Scots.

Japan coach Asako Takakura made it clear to her players how disappointed she was with Monday's performance.

"We never look to play defensive football but in the first half we were very cautious," said Takakura.

"We were not good enough to break down Argentina's defense today.

"The areas that have to be changed will be."

Associated Press


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