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How Argentina's national team went from non-existent to the Women's World Cup in two years

The Argentines have already beaten institutional sexism and a culture of discouragement. With one more victory, they'll move closer to another surprise.

NEUILLY-SUR-SEINE, France — This time four years ago, the thought of Argentina vying for a spot in the knockout stage of the 2019 Women’s World Cup would’ve been downright laughable to American-born goalkeeper Gabriela Garton.

until the U.S. trounced Thailand by 13 goals last week." data-reactid="16" style="margin: 0px 0px 1em; color: rgb(38, 40, 42); font-family: "Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 15px;" class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)--sm Mt(0.8em)--sm">The team had failed to qualify for two consecutive tournaments, this after the humiliation of losing 11-0 to Germany at the 2007 event in China, the biggest margin of defeat for any team in World Cup history, men’s or women’s, until the U.S. trounced Thailand by 13 goals last week.

three consecutive major tournament finals, the Argentine Football Association had effectively given up on its women’s program in 2015 after the squad finished last in its group at the Pan American Games. That is, if the AFA had ever really supported it at all." data-reactid="17" style="margin: 0px 0px 1em; color: rgb(38, 40, 42); font-family: "Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 15px;" class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)--sm Mt(0.8em)--sm">While the Lionel Messi-led men’s team was in the middle of a run to three consecutive major tournament finals, the Argentine Football Association had effectively given up on its women’s program in 2015 after the squad finished last in its group at the Pan American Games. That is, if the AFA had ever really supported it at all.

“From 2015 to 2017 the national team didn’t exist,” Garton told Yahoo Sports in an interview earlier this week just outside of Paris, where the Argentines will meet Scotland Wednesday with that unlikely place in the knockout stage somehow on the line.

The Albicelestes Las Pibas tied Japan, FIFA’s seventh-ranked side, in their opener and then narrowly lost to No. 3 England in the second match. That means a win against the Scots will be enough to advance. Their stingy defensive performances against two of the title challengers have surprised even themselves." data-reactid="19" style="margin: 0px 0px 1em; color: rgb(38, 40, 42); font-family: "Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 15px;" class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)--sm Mt(0.8em)--sm">Argentina has been one of the best stories so far at this World Cup. The Albicelestes Las Pibas tied Japan, FIFA’s seventh-ranked side, in their opener and then narrowly lost to No. 3 England in the second match. That means a win against the Scots will be enough to advance. Their stingy defensive performances against two of the title challengers have surprised even themselves.

“A little bit, yeah,” laughed defender Natalie Juncos, the other Argentine-American on the squad. Juncos is a Detroit native who spent three seasons at the University of Houston. “We played a bit more defensive the last two games to build the confidence that we can play against the best teams in the world. Now, we want to test it a little bit more offensively. We’ve had good results, but we want to take the next step.”

It’s astonishing that they’ve made it this far. Before the Japan match, Argentina hadn’t faced an international opponent since February. While the favored U.S. was preparing for the World Cup with a ballyhooed three-game send-off series, the Argentines scheduled tuneups against collegiate foes.

Still, things are a lot better than they used to be. When the squad reconvened in 2017, the AFA refused to pay for travel for players who lived more than 400 kilometers from Buenos Aires. One head coach was assigned to the under-17, U-20 and senior teams. Twenty-five women were forced to dress in a futsal locker room designed for 12. They wore threadbare practice gear that the men’s team had used a dozen years prior.

“We were being forced to train on the turf field at the [AFA] complex when there’s 10 other impeccable grass fields,” Garton said. “It was pretty much a mess.”

was ousted on fraud charges by FIFA, which temporarily took over the organization." data-reactid="44" style="margin: 0px 0px 1em; color: rgb(38, 40, 42); font-family: "Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 15px;" class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)--sm Mt(0.8em)--sm">The players eventually went on strike to demand better treatment. The AFA had already been under intense pressure from the media for the better part of a year; fed up with the federation’s incompetence, or worse, Messi himself briefly retired from the national team following the loss to Chile in the final of the Copa America Centenario in 2016. The next day, AFA president Luis Segura was ousted on fraud charges by FIFA, which temporarily took over the organization.

Meantime, the women’s team didn’t train at all between the fall of 2017 and early last year. The strike had been a starting point for them, even made it into the newspapers. But the momentum quickly fizzled.

played on another continent. Traditionally, though, soccer in the nation of nearly 45 million has not been welcoming to girls and women." data-reactid="46" style="margin: 0px 0px 1em; color: rgb(38, 40, 42); font-family: "Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 15px;" class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)--sm Mt(0.8em)--sm">Soccer is like religion in Argentina. Passions run so high that when the top men’s club teams, Boca Juniors and River Plate, met last year in the South American final, fan violence forced the the decisive contest to be played on another continent. Traditionally, though, soccer in the nation of nearly 45 million has not been welcoming to girls and women.

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