- La Roja set to make their Women’s World Cup debut
- Drawn in Group F with Sweden, USA and Thailand
- We speak to the midfield pair calling the shots for Chile and Sevilla
“I get goosebumps just thinking that we’ve qualified for the World Cup,” says central midfielder Karen Araya, the emotion evident in her voice and eyes.
Chile will be one of four debutants at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ after securing a historic qualification at the Copa America 2018. Three exceptional features of last year’s tournament combined to bring about that feat: Chile had home advantage; three World Cup berths were on offer; and it coincided with the coming of age of a golden generation of players.
That said, the road to France was not without its obstacles for Chile, with opening draws against Paraguay and Colombia putting their qualification hopes in jeopardy. However, a late strike against Uruguay (1-0) and an emphatic defeat of Peru (5-0) boosted morale and confidence.
In the final phase, a loss to Brazil and another draw with Colombia meant it came down to their final game against Argentina, who La Roja duly swept aside to secure one of the automatic qualifying berths for France.
“We didn’t expect it to be 4-0 – we just wanted the win to seal qualification,” recalls Francisca Lara, the team’s roving midfielder and author of the fourth goal that day. “It was the culmination of a great deal of sacrifice over many years,” she adds. Finally, though, the women’s national team had realised their dream.
Components and friends
During that home tournament, two players were ever-present in coach Jose Letelier’s side: Araya and Lara. Karen always in central midfield, with ‘Pancha’ either deployed as a wide midfielder or just behind the front two.
“We’re the cogs that link defence and attack, which is why our playing together and knowing each other so well is a plus for the team,” says Araya. The stats underline just how important the pair are, too, being named as starters in all seven of Chile’s qualifying games and playing 95.5 per cent of game time.
“With a glance we already know what the other will do,” admits Lara. “That makes us stronger and more composed.” For a while now, the coaching staff have been experimenting with new players, but they have always stuck with this pairing.
As well as running the Chilean midfield for a decade, this season the pair have also been lining out together for Sevilla FC Femenino in the Spanish first division.
And just as with the national team, the two are undisputed starters for the Andalusian club, which is battling to maintain its top-flight status. “The competition we have here ensures we are preparing for the World Cup in the best possible way,” says ‘Pancha’.
Sevilla’s salvation will be decided by their season-ending meetings with Athletic Club, FC Barcelona and Levante UD, all teams in the upper reaches of table boasting a host of international players. In other words, it is the perfect opportunity for the Chilean pair to fine tune their game ahead of France.
Difficult but firm preparation
Chile’s performances in recent friendlies have been mixed: from a historic 3-2 win in Australia, to a painful 7-0 defeat by the Netherlands. So far in 2019, however, they have a balance of four losses and two draws.
“These are preparation games. Despite the defeats, we’re still striving to improve, and it’s better to lose now than to do badly at the World Cup,” says Lara.“ It’s important we focus on being more compact and united in the weeks leading up to the World Cup,” adds Araya.
Chile’s final friendlies before France are set to take place in Germany, although the dates and fixtures are still to be confirmed.
|Karen Araya||🇨🇱 Chile (2006 - )||52||5|
|Francisca Lara||🇨🇱 Chile (2009 - )||57||20|
|Karen Araya||🇪🇸 Sevilla FC (2018/19)||27||2|
|Francisca Lara||🇪🇸 Sevilla FC (2018/19)||19||0|
Have you imagined how Chile’s World Cup debut will be?
Araya: “Yes, one with a lot of Chileans in the stadium. When the national anthem plays, I’d love to hear our fans singing it a cappella like they did at the Copa America. It’s hugely emotional.”
What will the team’s main weapons be against USA and Sweden?
Araya: “We have good individual players but we’re much stronger as a team.”
Lara: “One of our fortes is our ability to go toe-to-toe with any team. We’re not going there just to make up the numbers.”
What is La Roja’s overall objective for France 2019?
Araya: “To perform well and give as good as we get no matter who we face. If we manage that, we’ll be more than happy.”
Lara: “We want to take it one step at a time and obviously reach the knockout phase. After that, we’ll see what we can do.”