This story begins in 2004, when Venezuela began to enjoy some measured success in qualifying matches for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. Suddenly, this traditionally baseball-obsessed country started to fall in love with the beautiful game. That was when ten-year-old Alvaro Castellanos turned to his father and said “I don’t want to play baseball anymore. I want to try football.”
His sister Deyna looked on, fascinated. She was just five, but her admiration for her older brother meant she accompanied him to every training session. No one back then suspected that this little bit of sisterly love would one day play a part in one of Venezuela’s greatest campaigns in a FIFA tournament.
“I went to training with him and I brought a ball. I just stood around, controlling the ball and kicking it back and forth. Then a coach saw me and spoke to my parents. At first, it was a shock for them. 'A girl playing football? Come on!' they said. But after the surprise wore off, they were right behind me. So really I’m only playing football today because of my brother," said Deyna Castellanos, the top scorer at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, despite still being just 14.
With two goals against Costa Rica, another against Zambia, and then the winner against Italy, Castellanos is on fire. ”Personally, I didn’t expect a start like this for myself, although I thought the team would do well,” she told FIFA.com.
And to think that she almost missed the tournament because of a knee injury... She battled back, however, has now played in all three games and earned two FIFA Live your Goals Player of the Match awards.
“Of the players we’ve come up against so far, she (Castellanos) is one of the best, along with Gloriana Villalobos. With two strikers like that, and the defence that we have, we could easily win the World Cup,” was the glowing tribute from Italy coach Enrico Sbardella, which perfectly sums up the plaudits Castellanos has been earning in Costa Rica.
Her coach, Kenneth Zseremeta, added to the chorus of praise: “She is bold, brave and strong. She plays with a positive type of aggression that allows her to overcome her lack of years. She isn’t even 15! She plays like she’s having fun. That’s why she enjoys football so much."
But wait, what changed in Venezuela, to allow a group of girls, not baseball players, to captivate the entire nation? For Castellanos, the answer is simple: “They realised that football is the best sport in the world!”
With her mother cheering on from the stands and her father and brother watching at home, Castellanos – a fan of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and countryman Jose Rondon – is determined to continue her form in the quarter-final against Canada.
"Venezuela need something to celebrate and for me, when I wear this badge close to my heart, it’s like I’m carrying the Venezuelan people in my heart too," she said. "I want to continue scoring, because every goal I score is for all Venezuelans."
For all Venezuelans but for one Venezuelan in particular, as she revealed: “When I came here, I asked my brother what he wanted me to bring home for him. He said the top scorer's award. So I’m doing it for him.”
Or in other words, for her mentor, whose love of football meant that today she can close her eyes and imagine a bright future in the game. "How far can you go?" we ask her, as the interview concluded. “A long way,” she answered, with the same certainty with which she puts away goalscoring chances. She is certainly on the right track.