When Lourdes Moreno's mother passed away, it felt like the world had been pulled from under her feet. She was inconsolable, to the point of even being prepared to leave behind what she loved the most.
“I was depressed and I wanted to get away from everything,” she told FIFA.com. “Her death is the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. When it happened, I decided to retire from football.” She was only 18 years old, with a brilliant future ahead of her, but at that moment, none of it seemed to matter.
Happily, the story does not end there for Moreno, or ‘La Kika’ as she is known in her native Venezuela. Her father, with the support of her brothers and sisters, managed to persuade her that giving up was not an option. “My family made me see sense,” she continued. “They told me that I couldn’t leave it behind, that my mum had always supported me. So after five or six months out of the game, when I was called up again for the national team, they convinced me to go back.”
Nearly a year-and-a-half has passed since that moment and now, sat in her hotel room in the Papuan capital Port Moresby, the midfielder is able to smile, as she looks back on a difficult period in her life. “You never get over it because this is something that you can’t get over and that you can’t forget,” she explained. “But you do learn to live with it.”
Love and support Since part of this process consists in drawing inspiration from heartache, there can be nobody more motivated for the start of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Papua New Guinea 2016. As the tournament approaches, Venezuelan expectations are high and, on a personal note, La Kika is on the brink of making history: none of her compatriots can claim to have captained La Vinotinto in two World Cups.
“To tell the truth, it’s a big responsibility,” she admitted. “I’m grateful to the coaching team and my team-mates for all the support and the trust they’ve shown in me.” With Moreno wearing the armband, Venezuela surprised onlookers by claiming fourth place at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Costa Rica 2014.
The current U-17 squad repeated the trick with another fourth place finish a couple of weeks ago in Jordan, and the captain is aiming for a repeat showing in PNG. “To be there at the end, when the World Cup comes to a climax, is our target. But we have to take each game as it comes because the group isn’t easy at all.”
Mexico, Czech Republic and defending champions Germany are lying in wait for La Vinotinto in the tournament’s first phase. Only two teams will make it through to the knock-out stages, but La Kika will not let herself be overawed. “There’s no fear,” she emphasised.
“It won’t be easy for us, but neither will it be for them. There’ll be some nerves, as there always are before a game, and we’ll be a little anxious because we’re under pressure to get results, but we’re mentally ready.”
Treading familiar ground Most importantly, the captain and many of her team-mates know exactly how it feels to wait in the tunnel, to take to the field, and to hear the national anthems, as the last thing that this team could be accused of is lacking tournament experience.
In addition to the ‘veterans’ from two years ago in Costa Rica, the squad that has travelled to PNG features players who have performed at the South American championship, the Bolivarian Games and the senior Copa America. “We’ve got a very good team,” she insisted.
As such, Moreno is not unduly worried by the absence of Deyna Castellanos, possibly Venezuela’s biggest name right now and one of the stars of Jordan 2016. “It’s a shame that she can’t be here. But if people said that the U-17 team were too 'Deyna-dependent', that’s not the case with us. Here, any of us can take centre stage.”
Fully 14 hours separate the time zones in Venezuela and Papua New Guinea. However, do not think for one moment that this will stop the country getting behind their girls again. “They’re already offering us lots of support back there, and many people have posted that they’ll be watching our match against Germany,” Moreno pointed out.
Among them will be her entire family, who will be waiting up until two o’clock in the morning on 14 November to watch La Vinotinto’s opening match on television. “They told me that they’d be pulling all-nighters to watch the matches. My whole family will have bags under their eyes!” she chuckled.
Leading her personal fan club will be Juan José, her proud father. He will be joined by Juan, the older brother with whom she shared her first experiences of playing football in the street, and Yolimar and Yesimar, her two sisters. According to La Kika, her sisters “could be models or anything else, but not footballers”, yet neither of them will want to miss their sister’s great adventure in this far-off land with La Vinotinto.
Finally, there will be someone else accompanying all of them. Mother Nuri remains forever in their thoughts, and the midfielder will take her memory on to the pitch in the form of a tattoo carrying her name and date of birth. “All the goals and all the wins will be for her and my family,” she pledged.
She may have come close to leaving the game behind for good, but it now seems that Lourdes Moreno’s story is only just getting started.