- Historic clubs in Italy now taking an interest in women’s football
- Juventus recently attracted a record crowd for a women's football match in Italy
- Forward Valentina Giacinti says first World Cup in 20 years is ‘big achievement’
It has been 20 years since an Italian player set foot on a FIFA Women’s World Cup™ field, but after finishing top of their UEFA qualification group ahead of a talented Belgium side, Milena Bertolini’s team will travel to France full of confidence after their two-decade absence.
The team is no stranger to a major tournament environment having qualified for every European Championships, except one, but their absence at a World Cup has been a long one, and now with a number of professional teams in the domestic Serie A, there is more attention and expectation of Italy’s women’s team.
That expectation has been aided with a talented group of players, with striker Valentina Giacinti amongst them.
Giacinti, who plays her football for AC Milan, has seen historic clubs in Italy shift their mentality towards the women’s game, with clubs including Milan, Juventus, Roma and Fiorentina all investing significant resources into their women’s teams. Inter, who won the domestic U-19 Championship this week, will also be in the top division next year after winning Serie B this year.
For Giacinti, this is a positive step for the game in her country.
"It’s very important to have professional clubs because they allow us to train every day, which was something that didn’t happen before," she said.
"We can now use things like the physios, doctors and training fields, and we can train in the mornings rather than evenings, which helps with recovery. So I think it has helped achieve a quantum leap in Italy."
That quantum leap has seen a growing interest in the women’s game in Italy with a record 39,000 spectators recently turning out to watch two of the professional clubs in Serie A – Juventus and Fiorentina.
The hope now is that this interest will transfer to the national team as it gears up for a difficult World Cup group, which contains Brazil, Australia and Jamaica.
For Giacinti, the experience will be a new one, but one she is relishing.
"Yes, it’s true that we have not qualified for a World Cup for many years and to be frank, I have no idea what it’s like to play in a World Championship because I was five when we qualified last time.
"However, it’s a great feeling and we can’t believe what we have achieved. There is a lot of expectation and enthusiasm and we look forward to playing in France."
Giacinti herself is in tremendous form for her club and is currently top scorer in Serie A with 21 goals this season. The 25-year-old forward has also notched six goals for the national team, and hopes that she can add to that tally this year and lead her country into the latter stages of the World Cup.
The team’s last training camp saw significant media interest and fans queueing up to meet their heroes for that all-important selfie. Giacinti is hopeful that if her team can perform well in France that that interest will continue to grow, not just in the national team, but Italian women’s football across the board.
"Many people started to follow us and see our games and training sessions. Training at the latest camp almost had to come second for one session because we had a lot of journalists coming to interview us and a lot of fans wanting photographs. That was very important for us and an important element for getting people interested.
"It means everything to do well, because if we do well at this World Cup, more and more people will end up watching us, and the next time we will have even more people supporting and following us."