As the most high-profile player on Costa Rica’s women’s team, Shirley Cruz is well-placed to comment on football in her homeland. FIFA.com met up with the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder to discuss the 2014 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, which was staged in the Central American nation for the first time.
“I followed it from France, and I flew here to watch the watch the final. I was surprised to see the huge home support at the opening match and the entire country getting behind the team. I’m happy about what Costa Rica have accomplished – it’s important for the country and for the development of women’s football.
“As a nation we’re known for our warm welcome, and we certainly showed that during the tournament. We also demonstrated that we have the ability to host other major competitions in the future,” she explained with a smile.
While the outlook appears bright for Costa Rican football, the 28-year-old playmaker is keen to point out that there is still work to be done.
“It’s a great experience for our players, and I hope it will help to move things forward. But it’s only a start. The fans turned up in great numbers, in the stadiums and in front of their televisions, which suggests that with the right sponsors and resources, we could do even better. We also need more friendly matches to build up our girls’ experience – that was obvious from the U-17 side’s three performances.”
Spotted while playing for her country’s U-20 team, Cruz has had the good fortune to enter the professional world, although the obstacles along the way were significant.
“My generation and those that came before it did not have the means to get by. We played football because it was our passion,” recalled Cruz, who has played in the French Division 1 Feminine since 2006, where she initially won six domestic championships and two UEFA Women’s Champions League titles with Lyon before joining PSG last season.
Dreams and sacrifices
“This U-17 World Cup is a good step forward, but what was clear is that desire and a love of football are not sufficient,” she continued.
“We have to provide a lot more resources to women’s football, and I hope that everyone now realises that. Better preparation was needed, especially from a tactical point of view. We always take coaches from men’s football. Costa Rica aren’t accustomed to playing at the highest level, and we still have a long way to go.
"I hope Costa Rica will do better in the Women's U-20 World Cup in Canada and that we will qualify for Canada 2015, for the big World Cup. In my case, I do not even know if I will participate in the qualifiers. It depends if PSG will allow me to join my national team for the dates chosen by CONCACAF."
One player who did not escape Cruz’s notice was the skilful Ticas midfielder, Gloriana Villalobos. “It wasn’t just her; there were other girls who played really well,” she pointed out. “But the fans got to watch a real talent in Villalobos, one that could go very far if given the right support, taught the basics in the correct manner and helped to mature gradually, both on the field and off it.”
Cruz also has a thought for the many young girls worldwide dreaming of becoming a professional footballer. “My advice for those who would like to play football or other sports is to remember that it helps you to grow, that you develop by learning,” she said. “Football has brought me a lot of happiness, but also sad times. If you have a dream that you would like to achieve one day, you must truly push yourself, make sacrifices and train hard. When you do all that, opportunities come along, and you need to know when to seize them.”