Friday 05 August 2016, 22:10

De Vanna: Rio 2016 is extra special to me

When Australia’s Lisa De Vanna made her Olympic debut as a 19-year-old at Athens 2004, she could have been forgiven for thinking that she would be appearing at the great sporting event on a regular basis. As it turned out, however, the Australians failed to make the next two Women’s Olympic Football Tournaments, leaving De Vanna to wait until Rio 2016 to make her return.

Much can change in 12 years, as the talented forward can vouch for, having faced many challenges over the years and gone on to become a role model in Australian women's football. De Vanna is continuing in that role in Rio, heading up a much-revamped Matildas line-up featuring only four other players born in the 80s: goalkeeper Lydia Williams and forward Michelle Heyman, both 28, and defender Clare Polkinghorne and Laura Alleway, who are 27 and 26 respectively.

That long absence from the Olympic stage showed De Vanna, who has a Portuguese mother and Brazilian grandfather, just how special the Games are, a message she has been striving to get across to her younger team-mates. “The Olympics were my first major competition, and I always thought Australia would be competing at every Games,” she told “It hasn’t worked out that way, though, which makes these Games even more special.”

The relative youth of her team-mates in Rio suggests the Australian national team has a bright future ahead of it, though it has given them a few short-term issues to contend with, as De Vanna acknowledged: “We can be pretty inconsistent. They know the basics, obviously, but they still need to learn a thing or two more, which comes with experience and playing against top-class opponents. It takes a bit of time.”

Among the new faces is a callow 16-year-old by the name of Ellie Carpenter. Though she did not feature in Australia’s opening day 2-0 defeat to Group A rivals Canada, just making it on to Alen Stajcice final squad list is an achievement into itself for the youngster. The challenge facing the senior members of the team is to ensure both Carpenter and her fellow newcomers value the experience of being at Rio 2016 and look for more in the future. “You never know,” said De Vanna. “This could be just the first Olympic tournament for many of them, and it could also be the last.”

De Vanna knows full well what can go through the mind of someone so young and the challenges they have to contend with, having been only three years older when she made her Games debut: “You have to give credit to Ellie, as it’s not easy at for someone who’s 16 to leave school and her family behind to go and pursue her dream.”

Australia will now look to lift themselves after their setback against the Canadians, which came even though they had a one-player advantage for a large part of the game. The Matildas have no time to feel sorry for themselves, however, not with a meeting against Germany looming on Saturday in Sao Paulo.

Another defeat would leave them with an awful lot to do to make the quarter-finals, and the veteran De Vanna knows just how important the Olympics are to her side: “It’s the biggest event there is for our country. The more success we can have as a team, the better it’ll be for the game. It’s so important.”

De Vanna’s hope is that her colleagues do not have to wait quite as long as she did to make it back to the Olympics. Before she devotes her thoughts to the future, however, and the development of a young and talented group of players, she will be doing all she can to ensure the Matildas focus fully on their next two assignments and make the absolute most of their time at Rio 2016.