- Italy were the revelations of the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™
- Goalkeeper Laura Giuliani was one of the stars of the team
- She looks back on her side’s performance in a tournament in which goalkeepers excelled
“I was getting some great vibes from my team-mates,” said Laura Giuliani with a broad smile, recalling Italy’s preparations for the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™.
Back at the world finals for the first time in 20 years, Italy had qualified for France without much fanfare but with a determination to do well. And that determination took them places as they became the revelations of the tournament. After beating Australia, Milena Bertolini’s side thrashed Jamaica, gave Brazil problems and cruised past China PR.
The Ragazze Mondiali’s thrilling run came to an end with a 2-0 defeat to eventual runners-up Netherlands in the quarter-finals, by which time they had become the talk of the tournament.
“We had a feeling we could do something big,” continued the Italy and Juventus keeper. “We weren’t thinking about results but about living the moment and doing the best we could. We were in a bubble and focused on nothing more than training and playing. And it wasn’t until we got back that we realised what we’d done. People told us, ‘You won’t believe what’s happening in Italy. Everyone’s talking about you’. And when we got home, it was like, ‘Oh my God. This is huge’.”
Though it all happened a year ago, memories of the tournament remain fresh for Giuliani. “I still get emotional when I talk about it,” she recalled, as FIFA.com asked her to go back in time and relive what were a magical few weeks for Le Azzurre.
A warm welcome in Valenciennes
“The first image that comes into my head when I think about the World Cup is our arrival in Valenciennes. We got a great welcome at the hotel and I remember saying to myself, ‘My God, here we are. Our World Cup’s going to start in a few days’ time and it could be fantastic’.”
As it turned out, the Italians would play three of their five matches in the city, situated in the north of France.
Comeback win against Australia
“If I had to pick out one game, it would be this one. It was special; our first World Cup match. They said Australia were very tough opponents and that it was going to be difficult. Everything they said was negative, but there the whole mood in the camp was really positive. We were pumped up for it.
“I remember walking out on to the pitch and saying, ‘Something might happen today’. And that’s why I said to myself, when we were 1-0 down, ‘OK. Don’t worry. We’ll turn it around’. And we did.”
Hitting the heights
“I think I had my best game against China. I didn’t have a lot to do but they did have their chances and I had to come off my line a few times. I felt like I was ready for it whenever I was called into action. I had the sun in my eyes in the first half too but I remember being focused the whole time.”
Goalkeepers to the fore
“I don’t think there was one keeper who stood out in particular. The level in general was really high. Sari Van Veenendaal had a great tournament and took the Netherlands into the Final with her saves.
“Christiane Endler is a top keeper and it was a shame that Chile were knocked out in the group phase. I also remember the England, Cameroon, Argentina and Scotland goalkeepers all making great saves and I haven’t seen as good a keeper as Japan’s Ayaka Yamashita. She’s incredible.”
Giuliani was one of the tournament’s outstanding custodians and turned in some superb performances, one of them coming in the 1-0 defeat to Brazil, a game in which she let in a penalty and nothing else.
Of all the saves she made that day, the first-half stop she pulled off from Debinha is one of her favourites: “I remember it as if it just happened. It kept the game at 0-0 and I think it’s one of the best saves I’ve ever made.”
In the Italian keeper’s eyes, there is a simple explanation behind the all-round improvement in goalkeeping: “The big clubs are setting up women’s teams now, which is really pushing the level up,and the goalkeeper is one of the positions that’s developing most of all. If you look back to 2015, when the last World Cup took place, Juve didn’t even have a women’s team in place. They only set it up in 2017.
“You have to do your bit, but clubs like that give you all the things you ever dreamed of having in terms of resources and planning. You’ve got everything you need to get the best out of yourself.”
On the back of their thrilling adventure in France, Giuliani and her team-mates have their sights set on taking Italy back to the big stage. Currently in the middle of the qualifying competition for UEFA Women’s EURO 2021, which has been postponed to 2022, the Italians also have the preliminaries for the 2023 world finals coming up. The difference now is that they are no longer unknown quantities.
“It’s always easier to do well when you come from nowhere and there’s no pressure,” she explained. “But when you’re asked to improve on what you’ve already done, then it’s tougher. That said, we’ll being going into the next big tournament with the same core group of players, which means we’ll have the experience and the character we need to take on the challenge and to enjoy the moment, even if it won’t be as easy for us.”