GUATEMALA CITY – After a 2-1 victory against Iran in a nail-biting match Thursday, Costa Rica plays Guatemala tonight in a bid to secure fifth place in the VI Women’s Futsal Tournament.
The match didn’t get off to a good start for Costa Rica after Iran’s star player Niloufar Ardalan scored the first goal against Costa Rica in the seventh minute.
But Costa Rica was determined to fight back in the second half, and Costa Rica’s supporters cheered as Priscilla Torres managed to even the score. During the extra time, Natalia López scored the second goal that secured Costa Rica’s victory.
“Both teams had lost against great powers like Brazil. It was a tough match because the Iranians are very fast,” said Torres after the match, elated from her team’s victory and still struggling to catch her breath.
The vivacious 26-year-old says football runs in her veins. Her father, Carlos Torres, played for Costa Rica’s men’s national team in the 1980s and nurtured her talent for sports since she was a child.
“He was the one who would take me to the training drills. We share the same passion and we talk about football a lot,” said Torres, who has played for the national women’s futsal team for the past 14 years and has traveled to Spain, Mexico and the Dominican Republic to compete in international tournaments.
Women’s futsal on the rise
López, 25, has played futsal – a version of football with a smaller field and usually played indoors – since the age of 11. As a final year dentistry student she said it can be difficult to strike a balance between academic commitments and her love of sport.
“The team trains up to seven times a week and somehow I manage to do both things with great passion,” she said. “I love futsal because it’s an intelligent sport and it forces you to make on-the-spot decisions.”
Costa Ricans are known for their football culture and López’s family is no exception.
“They’ve always supported me. My parents, siblings and boyfriend always come to the matches. They’re proud of me and they know that playing for the national team requires great effort,” she said.
Women’s futsal is on the rise, said López, who hopes one day Costa Rica will shine in international tournaments in Brazil or Argentina.
“It’s a very exciting sport and people just love it. I think our country does support women’s futsal. A couple of years ago we didn’t even have a national women’s team, but it’s been growing steadily and I hope we can become a great power.”
This is the second time that Costa Rica has played against Iran, whose players wear hijabs and tights in order to comply with Islamic dress codes.
Iran’s participation in this tournament made headlines after Niloufar Ardalan, known as “Lady Goal,” went to court to fight for her right to travel to Guatemala after her husband refused to allow her to renew her passport because he wanted her at home for their 7-year-old son’s first day at school. Under Islamic law, Ardalan, 30, requires her husband’s permission to travel.
Ardalan’s story went viral on social media with women from all over the world sharing the hashtag #WeAreAllNiloufarArdalan.
After missing the Asian Cup last September, the court ruled in Ardalan’s favor and allowed her to travel to Guatemala for the world tournament.
“I’m very happy for her because she’s one of Iran’s best players. I hope Iranian women continue to fight for their rights because playing sports is essential for any person’s well being,” López said.
Torres added that the language barrier had made it hard for her teammates to socialize with the Iranian players, but that they all felt a deep sense of admiration for Ardalan and her struggle.
“We admire them as women and as athletes because we all share the same passion. I’d like to learn more about their culture, and I hope we can have our photo taken with the Iranian team before we leave,” Torres added.
The Iranian team sparked curiosity and admiration from locals with Guatemala’s volunteer paramedic team presenting them with badges to take home as a souvenir.
“We brought a group of women paramedics in case the Iranian team needed treatment, as we were told they cannot have contact with men for religious reasons,” paramedic Jorge Borrayo told The Tico Times. “We know they’ve traveled a long way to be here so we brought them these badges so that they can take a little piece of Guatemala back to Iran.”
Costa Rica takes on Guatemala tonight at 8 p.m.
See more photos of Thursday’s match in Guatemala City: