It may be a U-15 event but there is no shortage of established stars on show at the Girls' Youth Olympic Football Tournament in Nanjing, including Venezuela's top scorer Deyna Castellanos, who was under the media spotlight even before a ball was kicked.
The young striker, who plays at the Escuela de Futbol Juan Arango football school, shot to stardom at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Costa Rica held in April this year, picking up the adidas Golden Boot with six goals and three assists. Here in Nanjing, Castellanos has gone from strength to strength, plundering seven goals in Venezuela's two group games and looking likely to clinch her second top scorer's crown in a FIFA competition. The Vinotinto wunderkind's reputation and eye-catching performances have quickly made her a firm favourite among spectators, who raise the roof practically every time she touches the ball or has a sight on goal.
"I'm very happy to have [the fans'] support," the precocious goal-poacher told FIFA.com after her team's penalty shoot-out victory over Mexico in the semi-finals. "In a sense, perhaps it's just reward for the effort and sacrifices I've put into playing football."
While casting her eye over the talent on display at the U-17 Women's World Cup in Costa Rica, former China PR star forward Sun Wen told FIFA.com that she was mightily impressed by Deyna Castellanos. The one-time FIFA Woman Player of the Century is the latest high-profile aficionado of a teenage sensation who already has a 73,000-strong Twitter following.
"I'm so grateful to my fans for supporting me and liking me so much, I'm very happy too," Castellanos said back in April this year, days after celebrating her 15th birthday. "I'm also trying to keep them updated and reach out to them through this interactive platform. Of course, it's not possible for me to respond to every fan who follows and supports me, which is a shame."
Even high achievers have their own heroes and Castellanos is no exception. "I'm a Barcelona supporter, so my idol is [Lionel] Messi," she revealed.
But the person who really inspired Deyna Castellanos to take up the game and reach for the top is Juan Arango, who is widely considered to be the best player Venezuela has ever produced. The attacking midfielder gave his name to the football school where Castellanos studies and trains, although his influence doesn't stop there:
"He's not just a player whom everyone in Venezuela knows about, he's also like a father to me. He constantly gives me instruction and guidance and encourages me to progress," said the Vinotinto ace, who dedicated the semi-final victory over Mexico to her mentor. "[He must have been very pleased to see] us get into the final today and see me convert a penalty. Although I didn't score [during the game], the team got the victory."
The results are merely a bonus, though, considering that Venezuela's top priority in Nanjing is to gain further experience on the international stage: "My team-mates and I are making progress every day," added Castellanos. "I'm learning something new each day and I want to thank my coaches and team-mates, who have given me so much support and help."
Planning for the future
Besides unwinding with her favourite pastimes of dancing and music, Deyna Castellanos is already finding time to think about the future. "I want to finish college first," she said. "As for football, my family hope that at some point in the future I'll go to Germany or Canada to develop. Of course, as long as the national team need me, I'm always there for them."
And her thoughts on the final against the hosts China PR? The Venezuelan hotshot shows no signs of butterflies: "I'm really looking forward to going up against China, because this game will be a challenge and will do wonders for our progress," she replied, showing the same composure that has made her such a success in front of goal.