- Chile up to 37th in FIFA Ranking
- 2019 a turning point for Chilean women's football
- Team captain Christiane Endler talks about impetus this has given
Change is happening in Chile and the sporting arena is no exception, with 2019 set to go down in history as a transformative year for the women's game in the South American nation.
Back in June, La Roja made history with their maiden appearance at the FIFA Women's World Cup™, while in September they reached their best ever position in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking, 37th.
"It's been a very significant year, during which the national team have learned some very important things," explained coach Jose Letelier. "In recent times, we’ve played in some the best stadiums in the world. That's something new for us and the players have given some remarkable performances."
The World Cup as a catalyst
After the disappointment of missing out on the France 2019 Round of 16 by a goal difference of one, Chile quickly got their project back on track with a morale-boosting victory at the UBER International Women’s Football Tournament. Sweeter still was the manner of their win – a penalty shoot-out triumph over hosts and regional heavyweights Brazil, who consequently fell out of the top-ten of the FIFA Ranking for the first time in their history.
"The World Cup was the start of something important in Chile," goalkeeper Christiane Endler said, in conversation with FIFA. However, the Roja captain points to a longer and more profound process of growth.
"There have been many changes in recent times, with women’s football getting more backing and support. Now it has greater visibility and people know the players. Many clubs have had a change of mindset and decided to create more academies for girls," continued the 28-year-old, a finalist in The Best FIFA Women’s Goalkeeper category in 2019.
That backing for women’s football includes the public’s unconditional support, as evidenced by the 16,370 fans who braved the wind and rain to watch the national team defeat Uruguay 3-0 in Temuco last month in what was their first home fixture since the World Cup.
The talent of Chile’s top players is clear to see, with an ever-growing number plying their trade overseas in the game’s best leagues. Among their number are Endler, now well established with French heavyweight Paris Saint-Germain, and Carla Guerrero with Rayo Vallecano in Spain, where Francisca Lara and Rocio Soto are also based.
Undoubtedly, the experience these key players have been garnering in tough leagues has enhanced the competitiveness of the national team.
"Being at a club as demanding as PSG, where you always need to be on top of your game to play, has helped me to take my game to another level," says Endler. "I take much greater care of myself physically and do more independent training outside the club's own sessions. It is important to be ambitious in terms of wanting to learn, striving for perfection, and always believing you can do things better... that’s how you keep improving."
Next stop: Tokyo
And the team will certainly need to do that to build on this year’s success. The keeper summed it up well by saying that France 2019 was not the end of the road but rather "the beginning of something important for the country". Competition at international level is growing all the time and La Roja do not want to be left behind.
During the recent international matchdays, the squad have begun working on their next challenge, qualifying for the Olympic Football Tournament that will take place in Tokyo next year.
"We have the play-off in April (against a yet to be determined African representative) and we’re preparing well to be in the best possible condition for that and fulfil another of our dreams, which is to play at an Olympic Games. That would be an incredible experience and something every athlete in the world would like to have," says Endler longingly.
Despite two defeats (2-1 and 1-0) to their hosts during a short tour of Australia this week, Jose Letelier remains optimistic overall: "I’m satisfied with the effort the players have made and with their focus. We know there are details to work on that are part of the learning and developing process, but I believe we're on the right track."
With momentum from a landmark year for the team, La Roja are now determined to keep raising the bar and writing new pages in the history of Chilean women's football.