Girelli: Big games like this make you feel alive

Just like everyone else, Cristiana Girelli cannot wait for 2020 to be over. It has been a year in which the Italy and Juventus forward has faced challenge after challenge. First came concern for her family’s health when COVID-19 ravaged the north of the country, where they run a chemist’s and saw the devastation it was causing at first hand.

Then came the problem of staying fit and in shape during lockdown, followed by sadness at the news that the women’s Serie A season had been cancelled. Happily for her and her team-matesJuve were confirmed as champions a few weeks later.

“Though we couldn’t finish the season, it was still amazing to win the title,” said Girelli, the league’s Capocannoniere – top scorer – in the 2019/20 campaign. “We deserved to win it, because we had the best defence, the best attack and the best goal difference.”

Goal machine

The goals have kept coming for Girelli this season: seven of them and two assists in six league matches to date. “It’s my job,” she said, a broad smile on her face. “Juve pay me to score goals and I’m happy, because when a forward scores it means the team’s doing a good job.”

One of those goals helped her side beat Milan at the San Siro, which opened its doors to women’s football for the first time only a few weeks ago. “Even though there was no-one there, it was still an amazing experience. So many great players have played there and it was so exciting to walk out on to that pitch.”

Girelli misses the fans a lot though. “I miss the atmosphere in the stadium, the feeling of the fans cheering you on,” she said. “We try to make them feel proud of us though. Playing football in such difficult times is reason enough for us to be happy, because we’re lucky.”

The striker is every bit as positive about her next challenge, which comes on Tuesday, when Italy entertain Denmark in a match that could decide both sides’ fate in the qualifiers for the Women’s EURO 2022.

Standings

  • The Italians and Danes will meet again on 1 December in the final round of qualifying matches.
  • Who goes through? The nine group winners and the best three runners-up – with Italy currently among them – qualify directly. The remaining six runners-up go into the play-offs to decide the last three qualifiers. Hosts England qualify automatically.
  • Denmark missed out on a place at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™, but finished runners-up at Women’s EURO 2017.
  • Italy qualified for France 2019 after a 20-year absence from the World Cup and impressed everyone in reaching the last eight.

“Denmark are a top team but we won’t make it easy for them,” said Girelli with a half-smile. “I’m sure that if the fans were allowed in, the stadium would be full. But we’re at home, in our country, and we’re Italians and patriotic. Despite the situation, playing at home is an advantage.”

The build-up to the big game began some time ago in the Juve dressing room. The spine of the Italy team plays for La Vecchia Signora, as does Denmark’s Sofie Junge Pedersen. “We’ve been joking about the game,” said Girelli. “‘Well, Sofi, are you ready for the match?’” (laughs) “She knows us very well, but we know her too.”

The thrill of the big occasion

Italy coach Milena Bertolini knows she can rely on the in-form Girelli, who is also Italy’s leading scorer in the qualifiers with eight goals in seven matches.

“It’s always good to score before a big game because you go into it feeling more confident,” said Girelli. “I don’t know if I’ll score, but I hope to do my bit for the team, whether it’s by getting a goal, setting one up or just running for my team-mates. This is the type of match you want to play in, big games like this. They make you feel alive.”

The forward will be up against another classy finisher in Pernille Harder: “She’s got pace, technique, great vision, intelligence, and she’s great at finding space and judging her runs. She’s got the lot. She’s a top player. I hope I can swap shirts with her at the end of the game.”

A tournament not to be missed

Italy showed the world what they can do in France a year ago and they’re looking to impress again in England in 2022. “It’s vital for us to be at the EUROs and to do well there,” said Girelli. “We need good results to stay in the spotlight. That’s what happened at the World Cup and that’s the way it is in Italy. There’s no past in football, only the present and the future. People expecting more of us only pushes us on.”

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