The Argentina Women’s National Team is facing a make-or-break challenge. Its hard fought 2-2 tie with South Africa was enough to keep them with a chance, but the team led by Germán Portanova needs more than a win in its final group match to make it to the knockout round. The game against Sweden, at the Waikato Stadium in Hamilton, New Zealand, is also set to be a special one for forward Estefanía Banini, who announced this will be her last game in international football.
The Albiceleste needs to beat Sweden in what would be its first World Cup ever victory, and that’s a tall order, as the Swedes are currently third in the FIFA Ranking. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, they crushed defending world champion United States before losing to Canada in the final. Sweden secured its spot in the next round after beating Italy 5-0, and are looking to improve on their third-place finish in the previous World Cup.
In addition to a win, Argentina’s chances also depend on the result in the other game of its group: they need Italy and South Africa to tie. If that happens, Sweden’s result against the Italians plays into Argentina’s hand, due to goal difference, the disparity between the goals a team has scored and conceded. Having scored two and received three, the Albiceleste has a -1 goal difference, while the Azzurra has -5.
If South Africa wins, the deciding factor will also be goal difference. With both teams sitting at -1, the Argentines would need to win by a higher goal margin than the South Africans. An Italy win spells the end of the road for Argentina.
For Sweden, with their spot in the next round already confirmed and their place as group winner all but guaranteed, it could be an opportunity to rotate its players. The key to the Swedes’ success so far has been set pieces, with four of the seven goals they have scored so far coming this way. Amanda Ilestedt scored two against Italy and her height will prove hard to deal with for the Argentines, who will also be without defender Miriam Mayorga, who is serving a one-game suspension for picking up two yellow cards.
Argentina and Sweden have only crossed paths once, at the Beijing Games in 2008, where the Europeans won 1-0.
The game, which will be refereed by Rwandan Salima Mukansanga, can be seen for free in Argentina, with the TV Pública transmission starting at 4 a.m. Subscription service DSports will also be showing the game.
Banini wraps up her international career
A big part of Argentina’s hopes against Sweden rest at the feet of Estefanía Banini, who could be playing her last match as an Albiceleste.
One of the best players in the history of the Argentina Women’s National Team, the 33-year-old playmaker is the only Argentine player ever to be chosen in the FIFA Best Eleven at The Best awards, in the 2020-21 season.
“It’s something very nice [that girls playing football now have female players to look up to], we didn’t have those role models growing up, I would have loved it,” Banini said in an interview with Telam. “Knowing that they can follow our careers now, that they have another way of watching women’s football makes me feel very proud, and I think it was the change that I wanted the most, the one that excited me the most.”
Banini lived through the highs and lows of women’s football in Argentina, but she leaves the international game in a very different place than where she found it. “The worst moment [for me] was being out of the National Team for demanding improvements, it hurt me a lot. Exposing yourself to that is sad, and what’s even sadder are the decisions that end up being taken, harming the players, who are the ones who really dream of representing the country; we put on this jersey and try to leave it in the highest place as possible. That was the hardest part,” the Mendoza-born player said.
“Seeing the growth of women’s football since we played Panama to get to the previous World Cup has been the most beautiful thing to see. It was a unique moment, the group was spectacular, and we once again led Argentina to a World Cup. Seeing the support we’re getting has also been great.”
Asked if she still has any career dreams before taking the decision to retire from the Women’s National Team, Banini seemed quite happy with the way things have gone: “I was able to do what I wanted: play in the United States, play on a great team and in a World Cup with the National Team, that was my great dream. I’m living what I always dreamed of.”
“I think I achieved everything I fought to improve [on and off the pitch], and now I have to step aside. I hope they continue fighting for women’s football,” Banini added.