If courage is an essential quality in a football match, then Papua New Guinea goalkeeper Eileen Daviaga is surely one of the standout performers at this year’s Girls’ Youth Olympic Football Tournament.
In Wednesday's final Group A game, Slovakia reached the semi-finals with a confident 4-0 victory over Papua New Guinea. But while the central Europeans treated the spectators to an attacking masterclass, the Oceania side's gallant goalkeeper also won praise for her performance.
The scoreline would certainly have been even more emphatic but for the goalline heroics of the islanders’ courageous custodian, who kept out wave after wave of Slovakian attacks. Then again, the applause for Daviaga’s display might also have been even louder had the spectators known that she was actually carrying an injury, having hurt her middle finger in the pre-match warm-up. To her credit the brave youngster simply let the physio go to work, pulled on her gloves through gritted teeth and went out to play the game of her life.
"I think this is the best match I’ve ever played," Daviaga told FIFA.com excitedly after the game, her fingers still taped together. "Although I had an injury it didn’t affect my performance."
When asked about her mishap, the teenager continued to put on a brave face: "It’s not serious, the physio said that I’ll recover in two or three days," she replied resolutely.
The shortest goalkeeper on show
Standing just 1.58 metres tall, Eileen Daviaga is the joint-shortest goalkeeper at the girls’ Olympic showpiece along with Mexican stopper Paulina Gutierrez. But whereas her Mexican counterpart has yet to get any game time, Daviaga has started two matches and become a defensive stalwart for the Pacific islanders. So how did the diminutive Daviaga rise above the rest to become Papua New Guinea’s first-choice keeper?
"Five years ago when I started playing football at school, I discovered that I was really good at jumping," she recalled with a smile. "So later I trained up to be a goalie. When our Youth Olympic team was being set up there were three keepers at first. The other two were taller than me but eventually I made it into the final squad of 18."
When asked what makes her stand out, Daviaga said: "I think my number-one strength is my diving ability. I’m good at jumping and have quick reactions, too. I’m also confident that I can play quite well. I tend to play to an even better standard on the pitch than I do in training."
Many of the players that represented Papua New Guinea four years ago at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore have gone on to win caps in higher age groups and even get into the senior setup. Following her outstanding displays in Nanjing, Daviaga is more determined than ever to tread the same path as her forbearers.
"After returning home I’ll continue to develop. Hopefully I can make it into the national youth team and then the senior team, just like they have," she said.
Although Papua New Guinea left the 2010 Games goalless with three straight losses and extended their barren run with another two defeats so far here in Nanjing, Eileen Daviaga is adamant that her continued presence between the sticks will give the Kurakums a fighting chance of recording a historic victory.
"My injury will heal up very soon, so I can still start the next game," the gutsy goalkeeper insisted, eager to rise to the occasion once more.