For those looking to make a pilgrimage to the spiritual home of Argentinian football, a visit to Villa Fiorito, a humble town in Lanus in the south of Buenos Aires province, is a must. It was there, among the rows of nondescript houses and dirt roads, that the one and only Diego Armando Maradona was born and spent his childhood years. Nineteen years on from the birth of El Pelusa, by that point delighting the fans of Argentinos Juniors with his endless array of tricks and on-the-ball artistry, his old neighbourhood saw the birth of another future Albiceleste star, Celeste Barbitta.
Now 28, Celeste has steadily worked her way to the top of the women's game and currently finds herself in Shanghai, preparing to take part in her second FIFA Women's World Cup. "It's true, I live three blocks away from the place Diego grew up," said Barbitta proudly, and the similarities between her and the footballing legend do not end there. The tight-marking central defender, who was introduced to the beautiful game by her older brother, plays her club football for Maradona's beloved Boca Juniors.
"To tell you the truth, between my work commitments and training sessions, I don't get to spend much time in the neighbourhood, but I still live there with my family," says Barbitta, a PE teacher by profession. A member of a close-knit family unit, the gifted centre-back is grateful to modern technology to stay in touch with her six siblings, parents and grandmother. "I stay in touch with them over the internet. They're very proud of everything I've achieved. It just seems unreal to be here in China, and it felt the same four years ago in the United States. This city is very impressive - there are people everywhere!"
As friendly and approachable as she is off the pitch, Barbitta is a different proposition once she crosses that white line. The player models herself on compatriot Gabriel Heinze -"I like him because he's rugged, tough and fights for every ball" - and she hopes to be able to display these very qualities at September's showpiece event.
'We want to get revenge'
Up against the Albiceleste in their opening match at China 2007 are none other than Germany, the same opponents who thrashed Carlos Borrello's charges 6-1 on the way to winning the FIFA Women's World Cup USA 2003. The Birgit Prinz-inspired Germans ran riot that day in Washington DC, though Barbitta still has fond memories of her North American adventure. "I'd only been in the squad for eight months at that point, and everything still seemed unreal to me. Playing against teams of that calibre was a great experience for all of us," she said.
"I can't describe how it felt to challenge Prinz for the ball. She was strong enough to knock me into next week," she added, with a wry smile. Yet will things be any different this time around? "She's still very big and powerful, but now I'm physically much stronger. Last time around we went there (USA 2003) as a learning experience, but this time we're going there to be a competitive force. We want to get our revenge."
While the thought of facing the three-time winner of the FIFA World Player of the Year award would fill many players with dread, Barbitta is clearly relishing this second opportunity. "I'm not going to say that I'll be the one knocking her around this time, but I'm definitely be much better prepared now than four years ago," she said confidently. "Anything can happen. What I will say is that I'm very happy to be going up against her again."
With the interview drawing to a close, the Argentina No6 launched another warning shot across the German bows. "We were really happy to discover we'd be kicking off against Germany. It will give us the chance to show just how far we've progressed in recent years. We're very solid in defence now, so you can't compare this game with the one from 2003, the difference between the two sides is not so great now. What is more, if we use the flanks well, we're capable of taking points off them."