Colombia tops the podium in women’s football at the Pan American Games after a dramatic penalty shootout.
Winning the tournament completes a steady rise in performances by Colombia, which lost the bronze medal match to Mexico in Guadalajara 2011 and lost the final to Brazil four years ago in Toronto.
Argentina, on the other hand, was playing in its first final in the sixth edition of women’s football at the Pan Ams. The previous best performance was losing in the bronze medal match to Mexico in 2003 at Santo Domingo.
The final was a really tight game, with both sides playing equally well. Under the cold and drizzle in Lima, both teams ran and tried everything they could. But the 1-1 halftime score persisted during the second half and through extra time. So a penalty shootout was required. Neither side missed the mark through the first 13 attempts of the shootout as it went to sudden death before Argentina’s Gabriela Chávez failed, earning Colombia the first Pan Am gold medal in its football history.
“We knew that these kinds of matches are very tough, and tonight with Argentina it was an extremely tactical game. Argentina did a really good job with its pressure, but we could overcome and ran more. Then the shootouts are luck, they are instances that may occur and you have to be prepared,” said Colombia coach Nelson Abadía.
South American women’s football has suffered from different internal issues that have hugely damaged development, and so its growth has been at best small. For instance, Colombia’s team didn’t qualify for this year’s World Cup in France (they qualified for the 2015 edition) and their domestic competition pales in comparison to the men’s.
Now the women’s team has done something the men’s team has never accomplished by winning gold at the Pan Ams.
“What these women did during the whole tournament on the field was amazing, a demonstration of courage and team capacity. I don’t know what the future has prepared for Colombia’s football, but we certainly gave reasons to be at the top,” Abadía says.
For Argentina’s team, this match was more than the gold medal battle. It was the confirmation for their hard work and a gift for everything they fought for over the past four years.
After the 2015 Pan Ams in Toronto, the team was broken up as they lost their coach and no one took care of them. They went for more than 700 days without a coach, training, and competitions until Carlos Borello took the reins.
They qualified for the France World Cup and finished third in their group, demonstrating on the world stage they were capable of growing individually and as a team. So they came to Lima to follow that road, and also to continue their fight for a more equitable football, and promise themselves to deal with whatever develops.
“Argentina’s football team never had a Pan Am medal, so to conquer this is really valuable,” Borello says.
“At the World Cup we drew a performance line, the same as we did here, and work forwards, always focused on the improvement and football development. This is a confirmation of the work done, but also the beginning of the football development for the future. The national team has to continue its explosion and that’s why we will continue with player trials.”
Beside everything, the Argentine team suffered a little controversy built around the players Estefania Banini, Ruth Bravo and Florencia Bonsegundo being dropped from the team after France. This polarized the group and the coach was in the eye of the storm.
But instead of everything melting down, the teammates got together and promised to go further, targeting gold as the only possible medal. And here it is, confirmation that hard work pays off.
None of the team wanted to talk about this last issue, describing it as a moment of reformulation and giving new players an opportunity. With no doubt their plan worked. They reached their first Pan Am final, and coronated a year of great performances despite the loss.
“The team is okay, because they showed their best version and were the proof that with work everything is possible. Of course we wanted the gold medal, it was a tough match, and we have to accept our loss,” concluded Borello.
In the bronze medal match earlier on Friday, Costa Rica defeated Paraguay 1-0. It is Costa Rica’s second bronze medal in women’s football and first since 1999, when the sport debuted in the Pan American Games. Paraguay’s fourth place finish is its best showing at the Pan Ams.
Homepage photo: Lima 2019
Written and reported by Olivia Diaz Ugalde in Lima.