To wear the armband is no empty honour. With captaincy comes the prospect of glory and being first to lift the trophy should your team prevail, a dream shared by Argentina's Laurina Oliveros and her 15 counterparts at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup. But the flipside of that dream is duty, and when things go wrong – and heartbreak ensues – it is the captain's job to choose the right words to soothe crestfallen colleagues.
On Monday, Oliveros was left facing the latter task. Having picked the ball out of her net half a dozen times against Canada, Oliveros felt the pain of her side's 6-0 opening loss more acutely than most, but she did not shirk her leadership responsibilities. "It's difficult to find the words after a disappointment like that," she told FIFA.com a day on from the defeat. "Everyone reacts differently and I spoke to those who needed it most. I told them we didn't see the real Argentina out there."
Jose Carlos Borrello's charges feel confident that the reverse was a one-off result, having lost Agustina Barroso to a red card with just six minutes gone and conceded from the penalty that followed. "[Agustina] was devastated, but there's no point looking back – we all make mistakes," explained Oliveros, who believes her side were punished for their overall lack of experience rather than the mistake of a team-mate. "That red card killed us in every sense: physically, tactically and mentally. It's very tough to be waiting for the referee to whistle for the end of a match, but we tried to carry on playing by putting the score out of our minds."
Indeed, with the scoreboard reading 5-0 at the break, and their hopes of an incredible comeback gone, the South Americans opted to fix themselves a new objective. "We knew the match was lost, but we wanted to do everything to at least prevent conceding any more," said Oliveros, who has lived in Miami for many years and dreams of making a career for herself in the United States. "We defended very well and we played with great heart until the final minute. That's the very least you should do when playing for your country, whatever the score."
Pride and responsibility
That opening loss now consigned to the past, Argentina's skipper knows exactly what she will say to motivate her side before their must-win meeting with Korea DPR on Thursday. "Everyone has to be at their best individually so that the team can play at its highest level collectively," said the UAI Urquiza keeper, a passionate supporter of River Plate. "Despite the disappointment, thankfully it was only our first game. Nothing's lost yet and we still have two finals that we absolutely have to win. Above all, we can't let ourselves be discouraged as we showed in the South American championship, when we lost our first game and went on to reach the final."
Oliveros's words may well have helped her team on that occasion too, and she has enough experience of wearing the armband to understand the importance of her role. "I was captain of the U-17 team," explained the 18-year-old, an admirer of fellow No1s Juan Pablo Carrizo and Hope Solo. "When you're young, it's hard to fully grasp it. But I'm older now and I've realised what a proud thing it is to represent your country, especially when you see the names of the players who've worn the armband for Argentina."
Among them, Diego Maradona, Daniel Passarella, Sergio Aguero and Juan Riquelme have all enjoyed the honour of raising some of the most prestigious trophies in the men's game aloft. In contrast, Argentina's women have yet to savour a breakthrough triumph. "Argentina have never got past the first round in the women's World Cups," said Oliveros. "So before becoming the first captain to lift the trophy, I'd really like to be the first captain to get out of the group stage."
Knowing her side's limits but striving to surpass them, Oliveros is finding the Argentina armband a perfect fit.