It remains one of the sport’s abiding mysteries: how can a football-obsessed country that has lifted the FIFA World Cup™ four times do so well in the men’s game, and yet perform so modestly in its female equivalent?
While Germany’s women are well on their way to bringing their trophy haul in line with their male counterparts, and Brazil’s female XI regularly make it to at least the semi-final stages of major tournaments, in Italy, where football is practically a religion, women have struggled to achieve significant results at international level.
But that is a situation that Corrado Corradini, coach of the country’s U-20 side, is hoping to change, having overseen his charges’ qualification for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Japan 2012. “Our FA is aware of the gap between women’s football in Italy and the traditional world powers,” the Italian told FIFA.com.
“That’s why we’ve launched various projects to try to close the gap. The first step we took was to host events relating to the women’s game, from the European U-19 Championship in 2011 to the FIFA conference on women’s football in Rome this April,” he continued.
Both events were extremely notable: the former for the success enjoyed by the host nation, who reached the semi-finals and secured a berth at Japan 2012 in the process, and the latter for its positive long-term effects. “They taught us lots of things and gave us the chance to benefit from the experience of other countries,” said Corradini, who was asked to take over at the helm of the women’s U-19 team in 2005.
“Now we’re working on setting up a large development project aimed at increasing the number of registered female players and developing clubs’ infrastructure,” added the veteran coach.
Although the men’s game benefits from meticulous organisation and high-tech facilities, women often have to get by as best they can. “We still have to work on and invest in women’s football, which is still not at the standard that it could be,” he said.
“In Italy everything is still entirely amateur, which poses problems in terms of physical and technical preparation,” added Corradini.
Such circumstances make Italy’s recent performances at this level - a UEFA Women’s U-19 Championship triumph in 2008, as well as the qualification for the upcoming FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup - even more impressive. There is no question, however, of the Italians getting carried away by this second-ever appearance at the global tournament (their first coming at Thailand 2004), and setting their sights even higher.
“Just the fact that we’ve qualified for this tournament is already a source of great satisfaction, and a tremendous reward for an extraordinary group of girls,” said the 68-year-old, who was previously part of the backroom staff selected by Dino Zoff, who coached La Nazionale between 1998 and 2000.
“We’re still not in a position to say that we’re going to Japan to win. Our objective is to put in a good showing, which would mean getting through the group stage,” Corradini explained.
Rather than a lack of ambition, this statement is a realistic reflection of the difficulty of Group B, the section in which Italy have been placed alongside Brazil, Nigeria and Korea Republic. “They’re prominent, top-quality teams,” said the ex-Lazio player, who spent seven seasons in the Rome club’s first-team squad, after having come through their youth system.
“Brazil are one of the powerhouses of the women’s game. As far as the Nigerians and Koreans are concerned, their results speak for themselves. It’s a very difficult group, but we’ll try to play to our strengths,” he added.
According to Corradini, enjoying the event will be just as important as obtaining results. “There’s one simple, important thing I’m going to stress to the girls - this World Cup is an incredible opportunity that they just can’t afford to waste,” he said, when asked about the team talks he plans to deliver in Japan.
“But it’s essential that this international experience leads to our players showing improved form at their clubs and that it lays the foundations for development.”
It is clear that Corradini has not lost sight of the overall objective of his day-to-day duties. “Our footballers are perhaps not looked upon as simply ‘girls who kick a ball around’, but in Italy, women’s football is unfortunately still undervalued and not widely practised,” he commented.
“And this situation will continue as long as we fail to incorporate it into a professional framework, one which would enable us to compete at the highest level,” concluded the experienced tactician.
For Italy, an excellent way to begin doing just that, would be to rack up a series of impressive results at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.