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Perseverance in the Face of the AFA: The Return of Estefanía Banini and Round of 16 Hopes

As La Albiceleste face the final preparations ahead of their opening World Cup 2023 match against Italy on July 24th, Estefanía Banini’s return to the squad provides a stark reminder of the perseverance of women’s football in Argentina.

Despite the successes of the men’s team in Qatar, the women’s mere presence in Australia and New Zealand is significant of a long fight for recognition by the Argentine Football Association (AFA).

After failing to qualify for the 2015 World Cup in Canada – 8 years since their last World Cup - the AFA pulled funding from the Argentinian women’s team and they effectively disbanded. For two years, the team were without a coach or even a FIFA ranking, until their return in 2017. With their revival, players demanded a wage of ‘$8.50 (£6.70) per day for training, as well as regularly scheduled matches and training staff’ – the AFA refused. The average annual salary for a player in the men’s Argentine Premier Division at this time was reported to be £214,638.

The team returned to the global stage in 2019, holding their own in a strong group and clawing back a draw from 3-0 down to Scotland in their final game. England and Japan were victorious over the group and once again not making it out of the group stages, Argentina’s captain Estefanía Banini criticised the standard of coaching and lack of funding from the AFA. Following her comments, head coach Carlos Borrello retaliated by failing to call up Banini for almost three years. Key players such as Florencia Bonsegundo refused call ups in solidarity, further weakening the squad. Despite being one of the most integral characters in Argentina’s squad, and widely recognised as Argentina’s equivalent of Marta, Banini was punished for simply demanding greater equality within the women’s game. She reflected upon the situation stating:

“To have your dream of playing for Argentina taken away because of a claim for improvement is very painful, but I have faith that everything will get better.”

Current head coach Germán Portanova was appointed in 2021 following three time title success with UAI Urquiza. His arrival helped reintegrate Banini into the squad in time for the Copa América Femenino, where she scored 3 goals.

Estefanía Banini

Argentina’s last pre-World Cup friendly saw a 4-0 victory over Peru, with goals from Banini, alongside Larroquette, Rodríguez and Gómez Ares. The World Cup squad announced on the 8th July boasted a side that not only embraced the experience of senior players such as captain Vanina Correa, but welcomed the next generation of Argentinian talent with the likes of 17 year-old Lara Esponda. Forward Yamila Rodríguez stands as the one to watch, following her successes as the Argentinian’s top goal scorer at the Copa América last year - where the Argentinians placed third and secured their World Cup place.

La Albiceleste walk into the World Cup with a 4-0 win over Peru

As La Albiceleste have seemed to have regained unity and balance following a few tumultuous years, they hold potential to cause upset in Group C (Italy, South Africa and Sweden). Their first game against Italy will be crucial if they are to make it out of the group stages, with both teams having similar results against New Zealand in their pre-World Cup campaign. Sweden are expected to top the group, but the fight that the Argentine side have put up in recent years should keep viewers guessing as to who else will proceed to the round of 16.

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