Earlier this week, when Argentina earned its first point ever at a Women’s World Cup thanks to a valiant 0-0 draw against 2011 champion and 2015 runner-up Japan, the players, upon hearing the final whistle, fell to the ground, celebrating as if they had just achieved the unthinkable.
A day later, as rain and thunder played a central role, Chile–playing its first Women’s World Cup–worked tirelessly for a result against ninth ranked Sweden. The Chileans stifled the reigning Olympic silver medalists, and it seemed as if another improbable stalemate was unfolding, but the Swedes broke through late against otherwise stellar goalkeeper Christiane Endler to win 2-0.
Now, the mountain becomes even taller for both South American sides, as Argentina faces England on Friday and Chile faces the daunting task of taming the prolific USA, each knowing that chances of progressing to the knockout stage remain slim. But the simple truth is that no game or opponent at this competition will be more difficult and trying than the obstacles they have had to face just to make it to France.
While their male counterparts both vie to reach the Copa America final for a third straight time, the juxtaposition with the women’s battle at home for respect, equality, funding and basic support is astounding. Against the backdrop of machista culture that exists throughout the continent, Argentina and Chile’s women’s programs have fought back and created a revolution in order to make themselves counted.
When FIFA removed these teams from its women’s world rankings in 2016 due to inactivity–as a result of lack of support from their respective federations–the players started a movement. From creating their own unions to marches on the streets, Argentina and Chile birthed a new narrative for their squads, one that would eventually take them to the World Cup stage.