Calm, relaxed and all smiles, Lady Andrade is clearly relishing kick-off at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament. With Colombia gearing up for their opening game of Rio 2016, the 24-year-old forward is almost unrecognisable from the player usually so intense, elusive and tenacious on the pitch. "I feel good," she told FIFA.com, sharing her take on today's Belo Horizonte meeting with France in a softly spoken voice. "Everything feels great ahead of this opening match. We're very excited and ready to win."
Andrade's confidence is striking, particularly as Les Bleues lie 21 places higher than Colombia (24th) in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking. That said, Las Cafeteras have little reason to fear their upcoming opponents, having beaten France in Moncton during the group stage of the FIFA Women's World Cup™ 2015 – their historic maiden victory in the competition. "Obviously I have wonderful memories of that game," explained Andrade, who opened the scoring after 16 minutes before Catalina Usme doubled their advantage in added time. "We played a very intelligent match. They had a lot of chances, but we were able to control the game and do just what we needed to win."
They may have done "just what we needed", yet that victory had important repercussions for women's football in Colombia. Suddenly, an entire nation fell under the spell of the country's young side, who continued making history by sealing a first ever spot in the knockout phase. "We now have the respect I think we deserve," added Andrade. "We're real warriors and the Colombian fans no doubt realised that. Beforehand, football supporters only watched the men, but I'm convinced that their attitude to us has changed. I don't think for a minute that I'm a star, but people sometimes recognise me in the street even to this day. Sure, it's only the diehard fans who recognise me, but still!"
Despite her modesty, Andrade has all the makings of a star. Supremely gifted, she is – even at 24 – one of the most experienced players in Felipe Taborda's squad, having struck nine goals in her 45 appearances. She is also one of a quartet in Colombia's travelling party to have plied her trade in the USA last season, turning out for Western New York Flash. "My experience in the NWSL was rewarding, but difficult too," she said, after finding the net once in eight outings. "It was a bit tough to live so far away from my loved ones. And we also had two different coaches. The first [Aaran Lines] was a fan of jogo bonito, which suited me well. The second [Paul Riley] was more focused on the physical side of things. I regret not having been able to show him the best of myself."
That testing campaign has done nothing to dampen Andrade's desire to shine in Rio, especially as Colombia also face a Group G showdown with USA. Indeed, not only will the striker be determined to display her worth, it was the world champions who eliminated Las Cafeteras in Canada last year, ending their hopes with a 2-0 defeat in the Round of 16. Time, then, for revenge. "I've prepared for this competition like I've never prepared before," said Andrade. "I feel totally fulfilled in this team and I intend proving that the 2016 Lady Andrade is better than the 2015 one. Our loss at the last World Cup is behind us now. We're ready to take them on again."
Stirring words, but Colombia will need to cope without Yoreli Rincon, after their playmaker was ruled out of the competition due to injury – a major blow for their ambitions. "Her absence is of course regrettable as she's a friend first and a team-mate second," said Andrade. "We'll miss her a lot, but her absence is as bad as it would be for any player in this Colombia squad. We're a family and it's always hard to make do without one of your family members. But I guarantee you that it won't prevent us from competing. Quite the opposite!"