Juventus, the beating heart of Italy's Women's World Cup team
Rome (AFP) –
The goalkeeper, the captain, the playmaker, the centre-forward -- Juventus are the beating heart of Italy's Women's World Cup team.
In Italy, it has been coined the "Juve Block" and on Tuesday in Montpellier eight players from the Turin club will face China for a place in the quarter-finals.
It would have been nine but for a serious injury picked up by defender Cecilia Salvai before the tournament.
Italy have been the dark horse of France 2019 having topped a group that included Australia and Brazil to reach the knockout round for the first time since 1991.
A 5-0 rout of Jamaica in Reims ended with seven Juventus players on the pitch at the Stade Auguste-Delaune in northern France.
The predominance of players from the Turin club, similar to that of Lyon in the French women's team, also mirrors Italy's men's team.
Italy coach Milena Bertolini concedes their success in France has been fuelled by several top clubs joining the Italian women's championship.
Juventus created their women's team in 2017 and have won the league title twice since.
"The Italian federation's decision to oblige professional clubs to have a women's section has proved a winner," Bertolini told AFP.
"And the fact that Juve, Roma, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Sassuolo launched women's teams has been fundamental.
"There are more resources, young Italians are now in a position to play professionally and develop their talent."
- Still not professional -
Some of the top Italian players have found "Juve" an environment that, if it still does not offer them professional status, is close to what they knew abroad.
Striker Barbara Bonansea, who hit a brace in the come-from-behind 2-1 win over Australia in Italy's opening match, had refused a proposal from Lyon before opting for Turin two years ago.
Centre-back and captain Sara Gama, who has resisted stars like Marta or Samantha Kerr, played at Paris Saint-Germain from 2013 to 2015.
And goalkeeper Laura Giuliani, one of the most reliable hands of the tournament with only two goals conceded, both penalities, has experience in four German clubs before returning to play for the team she has always supported.
"At Juventus, we are treated in the same way as in Germany from the point of view of professionalism," said Giuliani.
"I am proud of that because it did not exist in Italy. Of course, we are still amateurs. Semi-professionalism, then in the future towards professionalism. Juve has started this journey," she told AFP in 2017.
To complete the "Juve Block" are defender Lisa Boattin and midfielder Valentina Cernoia, who calls herself "Juventina by profession" but has long supported AC Milan.
Aurora Galli, a long-time Inter Milan fan, scored a double against Jamaica with No.4 on her back of her idol Javier Zanetti.
Finally, Cristina Girelli, scorer of a hat-trick against the Jamaicans, is one of the most experienced.
The 29-year-old has become a leader in the group, sparking the idea of dancing the Macarena after victories.
"Talking to us endlessly about the World Cup 20 years ago has made us a little vintage," she said.
Indeed Italy had not participated in the World Cup since 1999, but now powered by Juventus, they look set to be a force to be reckoned with in the future.
? 2019 AFP