|Date: 20 Jul-20 Aug August Co-Moderators: Australia and New Zealand Cover: Watch on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport website and app; Listen to the commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live; Follow the live text on the BBC Sport website. Click here for the TV program of the Women’s World Cup|
“To be honest, I cried. I cried a lot,” said Vanina Correa, who will captain Argentina at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 in New Zealand.
The veteran goalkeeper, who was part of the USA 2003 squad, speaks about her emotions when the men’s national team were crowned world champions last December.
An estimate five million people flocked to the streets of Buenos Aires to give a heroic home to Lionel Messi and his team-mates after beating France on penalties in the final in Qatar.
Seven months after those incredible scenes in the Argentine capital, La Albiceleste are gearing up for their opening Women’s World Cup match against Italy on July 24 (07:00 BST) at Auckland’s Eden Park.
No country has managed to host the men’s and women’s world championships at the same time. This is unlikely to change in the coming weeks.
While Argentina tops the world men’s rankings, the women – 28th in the FIFA rankings – have not won a game in their three previous appearances at the world tournament in 2003, 2007 and 2019.
Perhaps that explains why there is little sign in the football-obsessed country that coach German Portanova and his players are on the verge of taking part in the biggest event in women’s sport.
“Most people in Argentina are football fans – but women’s football is not that popular,” Daniela Lichinizer, sports reporter for TN Deportivo in Argentina, told BBC Sport.
“I’m sure most of them don’t know that our national team is going to a World Cup in a few days. There are currently no television commercials promoting it. That’s a bit sad.”
6,000 miles and kick-off at 3am
Up to 40,000 Argentine fans were in Qatar in December but the numbers in New Zealand supporting the women for group matches against 2019 quarter-finalists Italy, African champions South Africa and World Championship heavyweights Sweden are likely to be in the hundreds rather than thousands.
Argentina is grappling with a never-ending economic crisis and amid soaring inflation, the men’s triumph was a rare opportunity for nationwide celebrations.
However, the Women’s World Cup is 6,000 miles away and the time difference is so great that two of their three group games – against Italy and Sweden – start at 3am and 4am respectively in Argentina.
“I guess people won’t wake up in the middle of the night to watch the games,” adds Lichinizer.
The vast majority of their fanbase for the Auckland, Dunedin and Hamilton games is expected to come from the estimated 2,000 Argentines already residing in New Zealand.
“We were in New Zealand for three friendlies in February,” says Stefania Leon, Argentina’s women’s media officer.
“There weren’t many Argentine fans, but those who attended the games were loud. I know some crazy fans who travel to the World Cup from Argentina, but they are very few. It certainly won’t be like Qatar.”
“I had lunch with Messi”
The Argentina side will take inspiration from Messi’s exploits in Qatar if they aim to reach the knockout stages for the first time.
“It’s a big inspiration, but the expectation isn’t the same,” says striker Paulina Gramaglia, comparing the goals of the men’s and women’s teams.
“We don’t have the same foundation as them, we don’t aspire to win the cup. We have our own goals and our own context.”
Four years ago, players met Messi at Argentina’s national training center, where the men were preparing for the Copa America in Brazil, while the women were preparing for the World Cup in France at the same time.
“I know Leo, we had lunch together before the last World Cup,” says midfielder Florencia Bonsegundo.
“What surprised me the most was that he [Messi] was the only player who stayed for photos.”
Lichinizer said it was rare for the men’s and women’s teams to mix.
“If you ask [women’s] When players talk about that day, they will tell you it was just lunch,” she added. “The men sat at one table and the women at another table.”
“I have yet to see a video or message from the men’s team supporting the women’s team ahead of their trip to New Zealand. That could change as the World Cup approaches. I hope that is the case.”
From the shoe factory to the World Cup
There are no lucrative sponsorship deals for female players in Argentina, while forward Estefania Banini is considered one Messi of the women’s team – has played much of their club football away in Spain.
The squad Portanova assembled to see Argentina through the group stage is full of stories.
There’s defender Miriam Mayorga, nicknamed “Doc” by her teammates as a doctor by training.
Correa, who is competing at a World Cup for the fourth time, gave up the sport in 2012 and gave birth to twins before being “literally retired” and playing at the 2019 World Cup in France.
As she celebrates her 40th birthday next month, she is one of the oldest players at this World Cup.
Portanova, a former midfielder, worked in a shoe factory after retiring as a player before taking up coaching.
“A friend of mine had a factory, customers, everything,” says the Argentine. “It went well, but I wasn’t happy.”
Speaking of his appointment as the women’s national team boss in 2021, he said: “I’m quite religious and I believe God has prepared me for this moment.”
Argentina is the nation that gave the world the tango, but will they be dancing on the streets of Buenos Aires if they win a first match at the Women’s World Cup?
“I don’t think the men’s success at the World Cup has put any pressure on the women because they know they’ve never won a game at this tournament,” says Lichinizer.
“Winning a first game at the Women’s World Cup would be the best thing.”
“It would get the fans excited about the tournament and show them that the women’s team is our national team too and they represent us just as much as the men do.”