Sunday 24 February 2019, 22:58

Banini: We’re used to battling, it’s made us strong

  • talks to Albiceleste captain Estefania Banini

  • Argentina will take on Japan in their France 2019 opener on 10 June

  • Tickets can be purchased here

She’s the middle child who shares a passion for the game with her father. She’s the dressing-room prankster who likes to put on the music and orchestrate the jokes. But above all she is the captain and proud wearer of the No10 shirt, one of most onerous in the game.

The Argentinian Estefania Banini is just months away from fulfilling her cherished dream of “playing at a World Cup”. With the odds stacked against them, the Albiceleste secured a ticket for France 2019 in an intercontinental play-off against Panama after a creditable third-place finish in the Copa America Femenina 2018.

Creditable, when you consider that the national team went more than two years without a game, or even a squad get-together, after the last FIFA Women’s World Cup™. “There’s a lack of investment and continuity when it comes to the women’s game in Argentina. The sport needs continual backing. After the China 2007 World Cup (editor’s note: when Argentina last competed) the chance to keep growing was lost. If that chance hadn’t been missed, we’d be in a different place today, instead of starting all over again.”

The difficulties presented have served to make Carlos Borrello’s squad stronger and even more tight-knit, as Banini explained. “We’re so used to fighting against discrimination, inequality and a lack of resources that we’ve become stronger for it. We’re more united and battle-hardened, and that drives us on when we come up against top sides.”

Argentina will take part in the upcoming Cup of Nations in Australia, where the hosts, Korea Republic and New Zealand – all France 2019 participants – will be competing for the inaugural title.

“It will allow us to gain experience, familiarise ourselves with the tempo the other teams operate at and get more playing time against well drilled sides. It will also allow us to see what level we’re at. Then we can take stock and see what things need to be improved, and how we can frustrate the top teams and learn to play the most intelligent way we can in the short time we have left [before France],” explained this goalscoring, creative midfielder.

Group D, according to Banini

  • England: they’re fast and strong and take full advantage of their physical strength. They have a very direct playing style and are very good in the air.

  • Japan: their style is more technical with the ball kept on the ground. They’re very fast and effective.

  • Scotland: they’re competing in their first World Cup and so we feel that this game will be one we can compete like-for-like in. That said, we know they have more experience, as they’re used to facing very strong teams in the European qualifiers.

“We’ll be trying to get positive results with our own game, although we’ll have to modify many things from one match to the next,” said Banini. “Aside from our attitude and the will-to-win we show in every game, I’d say we’re known for our versatility and for the players we have in midfield and upfront that are capable of technically good football and prevailing in a one-on-ones.”

Banini's Albiceleste players to watch

  • Aldana Cometti: “She’s a very talented centre-back. At 25 she has mastered what is a complicated position and one in which few players really excel. In fact, it’s hard for any defender to really stand out.”

  • Vanina Correa: “She has the experience that comes with having played at World Cups and Olympic Games. She carries a lot of sway in the dressing room and plays a vital role as our veteran keeper. Hopefully, she’s not too busy in France!”

The midfielder, who is a big admirer of the Brazilian Formiga and, of course, Lionel Messi, lives and breathes football. She only has to complete two further modules to obtain her coaching badges, having already done practical work in this area in the USA and Argentina during her free time.

Banini’s career path was not your conventional one. A series of excellent performances with the national team paved the way for her to play overseas. First came a move to Chile’s Colo Colo, where she won the Copa Libertadores among other titles, followed by spells at Washington Spirit and Spanish clubs Valencia and Levante – her current side.

That international experience has made her acutely aware of how much still needs to be done in terms of women’s football in her homeland. “Without a doubt, football is a reflection of society and the progress of the country itself. In Argentina, unfortunately, we’re being left behind. We have to change the macho mentality of both men and women,” said the 28-year-old Mendoza native.

“We also need to create more awareness and for the game to have more reach. I feel that the fans, in general, don’t know, don’t understand or aren’t sufficiently informed [about women’s football].”

She is hopeful, however, that in the months left before France 2019 kicks off, that this situation will change and that all of Argentina will give the women’s national team the support it deserves. “A lot of our loved ones will somehow find a way to accompany us at the World Cup. Our dream is to pull on the Albiceleste shirt and fight for our country with this thing we love called football."