Sunday 02 October 2016, 11:13

Precocious Cazorla shaped by street football

By the time Maria Cazorla was nine, she was well used to playing against boys much older, against whom she had no qualms about showing off her full repertoire of skills. Not much has changed on that front: "Sometimes I nutmeg them and they get angry," she told FIFA.comwith a laugh.

Now she is 14 and faces off against older girls at club level, and against full-grown men on the streets of her humble local neighbourhood in Puerto Cabello, in the north of Venezuela. Given all of this, it should not have come as much of a shock that the precocious ace was not fazed on her competitive debut for her country's U-17s, duly getting on the scoresheet to announce herself on the international stage.

Although Cazorla's goal was not enough to prevent Kenneth Zseremeta's side from falling to a 2-1 defeat in their FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Jordan 2016 opener, she understandably could not help but flash a smile when looking back on the occasion. This widened into a grin as she reminisced on the way in which her life has changed in the last year. After impressing for her club, she was called up to the U-15 national team, but Zseremeta had other ideas: "He saw me play and said, 'I'm going to give you a try-out.' Then I played against our U-20s and I've been here ever since."

Somewhat shy in front of the microphones, she has a fearlessness and swagger about her on the pitch, which explains how she has earned a place in the starting line-up despite only having been in the set-up for a month. "I came on board at the end of August. I get on well with everyone; they've all been teaching me and supporting me a lot," she said. "They tell me to behave myself," she added light-heartedly.

When I'm older I want to join a team overseas and keep playing football so I can help support my grandparents. I've told them I'm going to help them.

Cazorla only sparingly dipped into her box of tricks against the Germans, but the way in which she nipped in front of a defender before volleying home her goal smacked of street football. Unsurprisingly so, considering this was the arena in which she honed her craft and to which she regularly returns whenever she gets the chance. "I'm the only girl who plays in the street; the others don't like it," she said, and indeed doing so drove a wedge between her and some of her female friends: "They asked me why I was playing with men and told me that football wasn't for women, but I replied 'I like it, it's the game for me'."

Her passion has also brought her new mates. "Mike, Lorenzo, Eddie, Jose… I've got a bunch of them. I learned my skills playing with them. They're like my family," she said, referring to pals who watched Friday's match. So too did her grandparents and uncle, who have been looking after her since her parents died and who, even though – in her words – "they're not football-mad", are starting to take a keen interest in the game.

When back at home in Venezuela, her time is split between school in the morning and training and matches in the afternoon and evening. However, she has a clear vision in mind for the future and it involves continuing her footballing education abroad: "When I'm older I want to join a team overseas and keep playing football so I can help support my grandparents. I've told them I'm going to help them."

For now, though, Cazorla is focused on enjoying her Jordanian adventure, which she is hopeful still has a while to run yet. On this note, she is confident that she and her Vinotinto team-mates will bounce back from the loss to Germany by claiming three points against Cameroon, the other team in Group B who remain pointless: "Cameroon don't look that strong to us and I know we can beat them."

The pint-sized prodigy will seek to get on the ball, bear down on the Africans and twist them inside out with her close control, shimmies and nutmegs. She will not have to reach far for inspiration: she will just imagine that she is playing in the street with her friends.