When over 24,000 fans stood with flashlights on at the D. Y. Patil Stadium, – India saw the dawn of the popularity of women’s football in the country.
The match in discussion is the final of the 2022 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, which saw over 1,85,000 people attend the event, making it the third most-watched u-17 women’s world cup ever.
Fans arrived from all around the World, with face paintings, jerseys and even music – making it a festival of the sport.
Fans from Morocco kept the stadium ringing with African jingles and cheers of “Maghreb! Maghreb”, while Nigeria saw fans going around the stadium with Vuvuzelas and the National flag.
The final was no different.
“I live in New York,” said Ason, wearing a Colombia jersey, shouting his heart out when the girls came out to play.
“I was born in Colombia and I am here to support our women – Colombian women who have made it to the final and we are super proud of them,” as joy spread over his face. Beside him sat his mother, Maria, in her 70s and his son, a toddler – both in Colombia shirts.
“It is very good to see Colombia represented in the world cup with these girls who are now going to play in the final,” she added.
Multiple generations of fans were witnessed in the Spanish stands as well.
With a huge Spanish flag spread over chairs, shouts of ‘Vamos Espana!’ kept the stadium buzzing till the final whistle.
Spain’s dream come true and its love for Sandy
“A final is a dream and we wanted to win it. It was something incredible and we are super happy, super proud and above all, we have enjoyed it, which is most important - making it a reality,” Marina Artero, Spain’s captain told Sportstar after winning the World Cup.
The Spaniards were technically the superior team throughout the match, wherein, its zonal marking proved crucial in the final.
For the second time against Colombia, it denied its opponent a single shot on target from inside the box.
But something that stole the spotlight from the players was a soft toy of a dragon named Sandy.
The little grey dragon had accompanied the team since its loss to Mexico. Wearing the jersey of Nina Pou – one of the members of the squad who was injured days before the tournament – Sandy is believed to have brought good luck to Kenio Gonzalo’s side.
“We bought it from the airport as a symbol to remember the people who could not travel with us to India – for injury or otherwise, including our family,” said Spain’s Sandra Villafane, the Player of the Match in the final.
Vicky Lopez, the winner of the Golden Ball stressed it reflected the “strength of the team”.
The cute-looking toy may be a figment of superstition for the Spaniards, but its belief – with and beyond the toy – saw it, miraculously, defend the World Cup for the first time.
The burden of defeat
When Colombia conceded the lone goal of the U-17 World Cup final, three of its players were down on the ground – watching – as the ball rolled into the net, after a touch off Ana Guzman’s chest, giving Spain a late lead.
That single goal went on to seal the fate of the match.
While the girls in sky-blue (Spain) rejoiced in victory laps around the pitch, Colombia’s highest goal scorer and its captain, Linda Caicedo sat clung to the goal post, weeping profusely.
Yesica Munoz, her partner in attack and in celebratory dances after wins, broke down in the mixed zone as Colombia’s local reporters hugged her.
Colombia fought and qualified from an extremely tough group, beating Mexico and China and forcing a stubborn Federation to make arrangements for incentives through its performances.
La Cafeteras have had several battles beyond the field, during the tournament. Its Federation denied FIFA incentives to the players initially – but later announced monetary prizes for their excellent show in India.
There are plenty of positives for the Colombian team from the World Cup. The team has seen the rise of a new football phenomenon in Caicedo, who won the Bronze boot with four goals to her name.
Colombia, in its 98 years of professional football, had never seen any of its teams – either men or women at any age level – play in a FIFA World Cup final.
“The fact that these young female players have managed to do so means that there’s going to be ever more women in Colombia,” said Carlos Paniaguam after the match.
“Young girls who want to be, you know, Rodriguez or Linda Caicedo and this is going to just really awake and a lot of interest in women’s football.”
After winning the semifinal, the Colombian team danced on a Spanish track called ‘Todavia’. In English, Todavia roughly translates to nevertheless.
Tomorrow, when the girls leave for home with silver medals around their necks, their hearts may remain heavy, but they will realise nevertheless the result, the flags in the stadiums will feature again, the fans will cheer again and they will – sooner or later – win, again.