ROME (AP) — The Italy women’s national soccer team was awarded the Foreign Press Association’s Invictus award Monday for promoting and “emancipating” the female game in the country with its run to the World Cup quarterfinals.
Head coach Milena Bertolini and forward Barbara Bonansea were given the award during a ceremony at the Rome-based association.
With soccer dominated by men in Italy and few opportunities for girls, Bertolini recounted how she had to dress up as a boy to play as a kid.
“Now things are changing, thanks to the Italian federation’s school programs,” Bertolini said.
Bertolini and Bonansea lamented that female players are still not considered professionals and therefore are not permitted to earn more than 30,000 euros ($33,500) per year by Italian law.
“It’s not about the money, it’s a question of rights,” said Bonansea, who also plays for Italian champion Juventus.
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While Italy’s men’s team is a four-time World Cup champion, the women had not played in a World Cup for two decades and entered as a prohibitive underdog during its opening match against Australia in France in June. But the Azzurre came back from a goal down for a 2-1 win courtesy of Bonansea’s two scores , with her second coming in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
“That goal shaped our World Cup, both in terms of results and in terms of promoting women’s soccer in Italy,” Bertolini said. “The strong emotions on the field were transmitted to everyone who was watching. I still get goosebumps now just thinking about that goal.”
The Azzurre went on to win their group then beat China in the first knockout round before losing to eventual finalist the Netherlands.
In a country of 60 million people, a total of more than 20 million spectators watched Italy’s five matches on RAI state TV, setting audience records for women’s soccer game after game.
The Invictus award is dedicated to “promoting the positive effects of sports in terms of integration and emancipation by the vulnerable sections of society.”