A warm welcome and a marselfie at the Palace for the queens of Portuguese football

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Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa received the women’s football team, who qualified for the World Cup for the first time.

They did it. As the queens of Portuguese football, the players of the national team today occupied the Sala das Bicas of the Palácio de Belém, the same 30 square metres where so many other athletes – including the 2016 European champions – have been received by the President of the Republic. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa wanted to welcome the Navigators (as the players are known) and highlight the “joy” that the women’s team had brought to the country by qualifying for the World Cup for the first time: “A day of mourning and compassion because of the war. Even during the war [the invasion of Ukraine took place a year ago] they brought us joy.

The release is “very prestigious for Portugal” and deserves to be highlighted by the way it has contributed to “the role of Portuguese women in society” at a time when they still feel “discrimination”, according to the President of the Republic, who highlighted the bet made by the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) in favour of women. Marcelo also congratulated the players in the person of captain Dolores Silva and “those two who scored the goals that won the game against Cameroon (2-1)” and booked Portugal’s place at the 2023 World Cup. “Those two” are Diana Gomes and Carole Costa.

For the Head of State, there is still a long way to go in terms of valuing women, although there are good signs of change, such as the fact that the sports portfolio is now under the responsibility of a female minister, Ana Catarina Mendes, who was present at the tribute: “I come from a time when women couldn’t be diplomats, policemen, soldiers, judges, when discrimination was not only as it is today, in terms of pay, living conditions: in the most basic things, they couldn’t have the activity that men had, and to talk about women’s football back then was to talk about fiction. Even men’s football could not go the way it did. Women’s football didn’t exist and it exists today because of a lot of people like you who have had a difficult journey. It is extraordinary. Portuguese society has changed and continues to change, and one of the fundamental aspects of that change is the role of women. Not everything has changed, no. If everything had changed, the person speaking here now would be a woman, and we will get there, we will have a woman President of the Republic. But your step is fundamental, but as the President of the Federation said, that was yesterday. Now it is tomorrow that counts.

The President of the Republic then went off on a tangent when he said that “the ambition must be to get to the final” and even assessed the Portuguese opponents as if they were playing men’s football: “First Holland, we have to beat Holland [the Netherlands]. Then Vietnam, which should be easier, but you never know. Then the United States, you never know, they have developed and in terms of women’s football they are unexpected. And then we keep going, we don’t stop. They must have tried hard not to grimace when they heard that sentence, because the Americans are two-time world champions and if there is one country where women’s football is superior to men’s, it is the USA.

And after kissing each member of the Portuguese delegation, led by Fernando Gomes. Dolores Silva, head of protocol, introduced her colleagues to the President, who embraced Carole Costa, scorer of the goal that gave Portugal victory in the play-off against Cameroon and qualification for the 2023 World Cup. And after capturing the moment in a group photo and posing for a selfie – taken with Kika Nazareth’s mobile phone – Marcelo said: “Why don’t we all sing the national anthem? And so, to the strains of A Portuguesa, the queens of Portuguese football left the palace: “From now on, they could always sing it after victories and not just before matches”.

Gone are the days when “it was said that football was not for girls”.
Fernando Gomes began by recalling the days when “it was said that football was not for girls”, in order to highlight the “spectacular achievement” of qualifying for a World Cup for the first time in 30 years (the first World Cup was in 1991). After all, over and above the difficulties they had to overcome on the pitch, they had to overcome even greater difficulties in order to be able to play football and take part in a World Cup. And with this certainty: “The Federation will continue to invest in women’s football. I hope the Portuguese will continue to support you”.

Half embarrassed or simply tired after the almost 24-hour journey from Hamilton, New Zealand, to Lisbon, with a stopover in Dubai, the national team captain thanked the federation for the welcome and the bet on the sport, without forgetting that this was a moment that would be remembered by all generations.

Earlier, at the airport, Dolores Silva had been more exuberant. “A very big emotion, these were the tears of many years and generations. It means a lot for Portuguese women’s football. We knew the responsibility that this match carried. To achieve this, to make history and represent Portugal, is incredible. To be at the World Cup for the first time is indescribable,” said Dolores Silva (Sp. Braga), who hopes that more and more girls will want to play the game: “And that the future is bright, because Portugal has a lot of talent.”

Without the physical presence of Francisco Neto, who remained in New Zealand to finalise the details of the 2023 World Cup, the Portuguese delegation was met with euphoria at Humberto Delgado airport, from where they travelled on to Belém. Carole Costa recalled that “everyone can see the work that has been done, both in the clubs and in the federation”, as evidenced by two appearances at the European Championship and now the World Cup: “It’s been crazy days, it’s been an incredible journey, we’re very happy and maybe we can’t even express it”.

Speaking at the airport, the director of the Portuguese Football Federation, Mónica Jorge, said the qualification represented a growing sport. “It was another page that was written, very beautiful and consistent, because it is a process that takes several years. There were a lot of players who started with us at the age of 15 to get here one day, to a final like this – because it was a final for us – and to be able to mark the dream,” said the former Portuguese coach.

“Doing more and wanting more” is the motto from now on: “Participating in the World Cup will make everyone grow, the players, the clubs they play for and a [Portuguese] league that we want to be increasingly strong and competitive.”

Portugal are one of 32 teams to qualify for the 2023 World Cup, which will be held in Australia and New Zealand from 20 July to 20 August. The Portuguese are in Group E alongside runners-up the Netherlands (23 July), Vietnam (27 July) and two-time world champions the United States.

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