- Elena Linari is the only member of Italy’s squad who plays abroad
- The central defender speaks emotionally about her experience with club and country
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By Sonja Nikcevic with Italy
Having topped a group that included Australia and Brazil and booked their first FIFA Women’s World Cup™ knockout match since 1991, Italy have a strong case for being considered the surprise package of France 2019.
Le Azzurre have captivated the watching world with their ferociously fast and efficient front line of Barbara Bonansea, Cristiana Girelli and Valentina Giacinti grabbing most of the attention. But claiming pole position in a section in which three teams won six points depended on their goal difference and, ultimately, their defence. The central pair in that rearguard are captain Sara Gama and Atletico Madrid’s Elena Linari, the latter of whom beams with pride at mention of the team having only conceded twice so far, with neither goal scored from open play.
“I promised myself I would do anything I could so that we didn’t concede,” she said. “We knew that goal difference could really make the difference. It wasn’t just me though. We re-watched our matches and saw our attackers run up to 50 metres to help out the defence. That really shows the spirit of our team.”
In a team so united, Linari does stand out in one important aspect: she is the only member of the squad not to play her club football in Italy.
“I wanted to leave home and challenge myself as soon as I could but my family insisted I needed to finish school first," she said. "I got to live my dream at home too though – winning the championship with Brescia before fulfilling a childhood fantasy and playing for Fiorentina.”
“My blood runs purple,” she says with a smile, “I honestly thought it couldn’t get better than playing in that ‘Viola’ shirt in front of eight thousand people at the Artemio Franchi.”
But then Atletico Madrid called and the dream to play aboard became real. “It never crossed my mind to say no to such a big club and an incredible opportunity to grow as a person and as a player. I overcame a lot of difficulties that come with moving abroad, but I did it and it ended with Atleti winning the title in my first season there.”
It also ended with Linari becoming the first Italian to win the Spanish league. Her greatest moment of pride, though, came from being a part of a historic moment for women’s football as a whole.
“Playing a match as important as Atletico Madrid-Barcelona, with over 60.000 people is something indescribable. To hear the fans singing the anthem at the top of their lungs, to feel it on your own skin, to see with your own eyes that many people there just for us, shouting our names…” Linari said, tears welling in her eyes.
“The cameras caught me ahead of the match crying," she recalled. "I cried from all the emotion, and because it made me think of how I had started playing. I started out with nothing, playing on muddy pitches with other kids from the village, and to find myself at one of the biggest clubs in the world, at one of the most beautiful stadiums, you feel you can’t climb any higher."
"The only thing that can top it is being here,” she added. "Playing this World Cup, making history for my nation and making Italians proud of women's football."
Fans interested in attending the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 can still purchase tickets for the tournament via www.fifa.com/tickets, as well as via ticket booths located at stadia for remaining matches still available to the general public.