Chile preparing for their first Women’s Olympic Football Tournament
Roja defender Carla Guerrero is their Jefa (“Boss”)
She discusses Chile’s opponents at Tokyo 2020 and sets some targets
Chile’s Carla Guerrero had been hoping to catch up with Canada’s Christine Sinclair again and her wish has been granted, with La Roja and the North Americans drawn together in Group E of the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020. When they meet in Sapporo on 24 July, she will take the opportunity to say sorry to the legendary Canucks captain.
Telling FIFA.com why, the 33-year-old Chile defender said: “I’m ashamed to say that I bit her in a friendly a few years ago. I hope that our paths cross at Tokyo 2020 and that she accepts my apology and we can swap shirts."
The incident took place at a four-team tournament in Brasilia in 2013. “I was a lot younger then. I got a bit on edge and I just don’t know what happened to me,” added Guerrero, clearly full of regret. “I said to myself: ‘What have I done!’ I felt absolutely terrible and wanted to say sorry, but I couldn’t make myself understood."
Those were the days before Guerrero became La Jefa (“The Boss”) of the Chile women’s national team, a nickname she earned at the 2018 Copa America Femenina. It was a tournament that marked a turning point in the history of Chilean women’s football.
With Guerrero and others playing a prominent role, La Roja finished Copa America runners-up. In the process, they earned a place at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ – their world finals debut – and the intercontinental play-off for Tokyo 2020, in which the Chileans recently saw off Cameroon to achieve another historic first.
The lowdown on La Jefa
International debut: Chile 1-2 Ecuador, Copa America Femenina, 10 November 2006
Overall caps: 70 (six goals)
She is Chile’s joint-second most capped player along with Francisca Lara, nine behind Christiane Endler
Caps in competitive matches: 31 (two goals)
She holds Chile’s appearance record for competitive matches
Guerrero is also looking forward to playing Canada for football reasons. “We won that 2013 match 1-0 and though that was a few years ago, we’ve come on since then and we can match them, even though we know they’re one of the top teams in the world,” she said of the Canadians, Chile’s second opponents in Tokyo.
The South Americans kick off their campaign against Great Britain on 21 July. “They can choose the best players from England and Scotland [Editor's note: Players from Northern Ireland and Wales are also eligible], which just goes to show their potential, though we don’t know if they know many of us, which might work to our advantage,” she explained. “We feel we can defend well against them.”
Chile’s last group match will be against Japan, another team that Guerrero is happy to be facing despite their status as tournament hosts. “They drew 0-0 with Argentina at the last World Cup. We’ve just beaten Argentina, so there’s no reason why we can’t get a good result against them.”
The Chile defender believes they are entitled to be ambitious: "We want to go there to compete, not just to take part. The aim is to make the knockout phase, and if we can you never know what might happen. Football is unpredictable. Some of the best teams in the world haven’t made it, so it might be our time. We’ve prepared well up to now."
The Chileans showed their maturity in the play-off against Cameroon, though Guerrero admitted to being nervous ahead of the first leg: “That was because of all the number of times it had been postponed. But once the things we’d been working on started to click, we became more relaxed and assured, and you could see that over both matches."
Guerrero also scored in that first leg. “I’m usually the one who flicks the ball on at the near post, but this time the ball fell to me. It’s nice to be on the scoresheet with the national side, as long as it helps the team."
Guerrero was still basking in the glory of qualifying when the draw for Tokyo 2020 was made. Explaining her reaction to it, she said: “I came over all anxious and I started working out how long there was to go before it started. I told my mum I wouldn’t be around for her birthday on 22 July and I looked to see when the opening ceremony will be. I’d love to be a part of it."
The excitement of Tokyo 2020 aside, La Jefa is well aware of the historic strides she and her Chile team-mates are making, and gave a specific example of the effect they are having: “It makes you proud when you see young girls wearing the national team jersey with your name on. It’s just huge that these girls are looking for a female role model instead of a male one.”
Guerrero has also been heartened by the recognition she and her team-mates have received from their male counterparts. “That support is so important because it gives us and the sport more visibility and creates more social awareness.”
The wearer of the No3 shirt, Guerrero grew up admiring her brother and inherited her love for the game from him. The winner of more domestic trophies than any other female Chilean player, she also appeared in the team of the tournament at the last Copa Libertadores, where she helped her current club, Universidad de Chile, to fourth place.
In qualifying for Tokyo 2020, she has helped break new ground for Chilean women’s sport, with La Roja becoming the first women’s team to represent the country at the Olympic Games. “That really adds to our achievement,” she added. “It’s a way of telling other women that if they fight hard and work like we did, they can make it."