‘México 71’: film tells the story of the pioneers of Argentine women’s football

The documentary tells the story of Argentina’s first representatives at a Women’s World Cup

Long before Diego Maradona and Argentina’s men’s national team dazzled the world by beating England on the green grass of the Estadio Azteca in 1986, another Argentine football squad was busy etching its name into history. It was August 21, 1971, when the Albiceleste beat the Lionesses 4-1 in the Women’s World Cup, the first time Argentina had played in that tournament. 

Now, the story of the country’s debut on the world stage of women’s football is being told, thanks to a documentary that spotlights the team’s pioneering players. 

“México 71,” directed by Carolina Gil Solari and Carolina M. Fernández, premiered in December 2023. Gil Solari decided to make a short film about the team for her University after hearing about them during a debate about women’s football. Her film caught the attention of a production company that pushed Gil Solari to turn it into a feature documentary.

The direction of the project shifted as their work progressed, she explained. “When we started to meet the players, we found lots of new details, but also another view of that World Cup.”

The directors worked with archivist Sandra Sandoval to gather as much World Cup footage as possible, but Gil Solari insisted that much of it came from the players themselves. 

“We visited them and they brought out boxes full of things,” said the director. “It’s an archive of the World Cup they’ve kept intact for over 50 years, and we were lucky to take pictures and document it all.”

The uphill battle of a World Cup in the 70s

In 1971, the Federation of Independent European Female Football looked to organize another women’s world cup in Mexico, having organized a tournament in Italy the year before. The women’s national team formed after the players met in a four-team tournament between sides from Rosario and Buenos Aires. Canal 13’s broadcast of the games was the first time women’s football had been nationally televised.

The team before their trip to Mexico
Photo: Salamanca Cine

They were ill-prepared for the trip to Mexico.

The only gear the team had was a set of tracksuits given to them by the Motor Transport Union, the only organization that supported them. They had also been given access to a sports complex to train, with bed and food included — but they had no coaches.

Argentine players flew into Mexico in three groups — many had to delay their trips because they lacked the necessary travel documents. One even traveled on her sister-in-law’s passport, changing her hairstyle to look more like her. 

Used to playing at bare-bones pitches to a barrage of sexist shouts, players had to adapt to fame, popular acclaim and full stadiums in Mexico. The World Cup’s organization had to purchase shirts and boots for them, because the regular shoes they had used in Argentina were unfit for grass pitches.

Many of these memories are written in a diary kept by María Esther Ponce, one of the players, to the directors’ amazement.

“We found her journal when we visited her at home, and we couldn’t believe it. It was a day-by-day record of that World Cup and she kept it after so many years,” said Gil Solari.

The directors visited several of the players across the country. “We called [Ponce] and she replied ‘Well, come tomorrow if you want,’ so we had to pack our bags and travel to Córdoba,” Gil Solari said. 

“And then we’d contact another player who was in La Rioja and she replied ‘Sure, come later this week’ so we had to run over there. It was a great experience.”

The Albiceleste players celebrate their win over England
Photo: Salamanca Cine

After losing 3-2 to Mexico in their debut, Argentina beat England 4-1, with four goals by Elba Selva, qualifying for the next round. There, they lost 5-0 to defending champions Denmark, and missed out on the bronze after losing 4-0 to Italy. 

After returning to Argentina, the players felt disenchanted, returning to anonymity after playing in full stadiums. Local media coverage didn’t help — “Football isn’t for sweethearts” was one headline after their debut loss to Mexico — but players didn’t let it get to them.

“I was very surprised by their reaction to those comments,” said Gil Solari. “You realize they were never too aware of it. They were never horrified by the remarks that were being made. I think it has to do with how much of a green light that kind of commentary had at the time.”

She added that players were far more concerned with how their families saw them — they often had to sneak out to play football in secret, or were shamed for having more male friends than women.

Gil Solari, who worked as a content producer and liaison for the Vélez Sarsfield women’s teams, agrees that things have improved since then. “Clubs and journalists have worked a lot when it comes to how women’s football is spoken about,” said Gil Solari. “People think about it more, it matters when it didn’t use to, and that’s great.”

After the World Cup, Selva — the champion of the England match — distanced herself from football, but today, amid a women’s football boom in Argentina, she regrets not telling her story sooner. 

Argentina’s 2023 Women’s World Cup campaign drew unprecedented interest, with around 1.2 million viewers tuning in to the Albiceleste’s 2-2 tie against South Africa. In 2019, August 21 was declared “Women Footballers’ Day,” in commemoration of the day Selva scored four goals against England at the Azteca — two more than Maradona ever managed.

“Mexico 71” is showing every Friday in March at the Centro Cultural San Martín (Sarmiento 1551, Buenos Aires City).


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