Less than a year ago, Caitlin Foord was just another young footballer harbouring vague aspirations of reaching the game's elite level. With three years of school still remaining for this young hopeful, few outside the most well-informed football aficionados could anticipate that a distant twinkle was about to turn into a shining star.
Fast forward 12 months and the Australia defender has the football world at her feet. Three eye-catching performances at the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ Germany 2011 led to widespread acclaim, and to Foord being named the first recipient of the tournament's Hyundai Best Young Player.
Foord saw off the challenge of a host of the world’s best young talent such as Colombia’s midfield spark Yoreli Rincon, Japan’s diminutive attacking starlet Mana Iwabuchi and Nigerian dynamo Ebere Orji, to name a few. It is a stunning achievement for a 16-year-old who, incredibly, is only a few months shy of being eligible for the award at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.
“It was pretty exciting to receive the award and great to be recognised,” Foord told FIFA.com. Although a member of Australia’s U-17 squad last year, Foord made her debut in the senior ranks of the W-League only last November at the tender age of 15. Though women’s football traditionally provides greater scope for teenage players to prosper than is the case in men’s football, Foord’s progression has nevertheless been meteoric. “A year ago I thought I would be coming off the bench for Sydney FC. I didn’t think this could have happened,” she admitted. “I hadn’t really thought about the World Cup and wasn’t thinking about making the tournament.
Though primarily used at full-back in the W-League, Foord has demonstrated an aptitude for a variety of positions. Well-developed technique means she has the ability to dribble with close control at speed, while a strong game sense and natural athleticism are all pointers to flourishing further in the coming years. As Germany 2011 Technical Study Group member and former USA coach April Heinrichs stated: “(Caitlin) has got the potential to become a prototype of a modern full-back who is strong in defence, but one who also thinks offensively.”
Such portents were indicated when the teenager made her national team debut just a month prior to Germany 2011. Playing on the right side of a three-pronged attack, Foord seemingly heralded future glory by scoring within ten minutes of hearing the national anthem at senior level for the first time.
Inclusion for Germany was her reward, yet few would have predicted a key role for the squad’s youngest member was also to follow. However, Australia coach Tom Sermanni, having shown his faith in youth by selecting the third-youngest group at Germany 2011, had no hesitation in allowing the squad’s most junior member to start in the Matildas' opening match.
This leap of faith didn’t end there. Australia were opening their campaign against 2007 runners-up Brazil and the teenager, winning just her third cap, was in direct opposition to world superstar Marta. Foord, however, came through one of the toughest assignments in women’s football with flying colours, as the five-time FIFA World Player of the Year had arguably her quietest game of Germany 2011.
Perhaps helping the youngster's cause was the fact she admits to knowing “not much” about the Brazilian ace before the match. “I didn’t really know what I was in for,” says Foord, displaying the fearlessness of youth. “Pretty much after my first touch on the ball I was relaxed and focused and couldn’t hear the crowd at all. At the World Cup the intensity was high compared to what I had been used to - you are shut down quickly and there was less time on the ball. But I enjoyed the challenge.”
Australia’s second consecutive FIFA Women’s World Cup quarter-final finish resulted in a maiden appearance in the top ten of the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking. The challenge for Sermanni’s young team will be to maintain that momentum, starting with next month’s qualifying tournament for the 2012 Women’s Olympic Football Tournament.
Only two nations will represent Asia in London next year, with Australia squaring off against the likes of Korea DPR, China PR and of course, new world champions Japan, who the Matildas defeated in qualifying for Germany 2011. "All the Asian teams are hard to beat, so it's going to be a tough tournament, but hopefully we can do the job and make it to London,” said Foord, in anticipation of her first foray into Asia at senior level.
And what role can the youngster play in the Matildas' push to be a permanent presence among the elite of the women’s game? Few are better placed to judge than Sermanni, a veteran of three FIFA Women’s World Cups. “Caitlin has an unbelievable physical capacity and I have rarely seen a player that can run as strongly at the start as at the end - it is quite simply amazing, “ he enthused. “Yet 12 months ago you could have blown her over with a strong wind! No matter the level, it seems to be just another game to her. I’m always cautious about putting targets on young players but without doubt she has all the ingredients to become a world-class player.”