Italy left for France 2019 daring to dream that they could hold their own against some global titans and make it out of a tough section.
Two matches into their campaign and Le Azzurre have two wins, seven goals and their ticket booked for the last 16.
That remarkable situation is thanks in no small part to Juventus striker Cristiana Girelli, who scored a crucial hat-trick in Friday’s 5-0 victory against Jamaica, ensuring that the win – and qualification – was never in doubt.
“I have a hard time believing I scored three goals in a World Cup game – it’s extraordinary,” Girelli said after the match.
“But it’s goals like this, and victories like this, that show you how good of a group you’re a part of. It’s a joy for us to play together and I think you can see that.”
It wasn’t just Girelli’s goals but also how she celebrated them that caught the world’s attention.
One hand cups her eye and makes the letter C – to represent Cristiana, while she makes a spinning motion with her other hand to represent a ‘giro’ or a ‘girello’ – meaning a spin or a turn in Italian, with a nod to her surname.
After her hat-trick, which only the second for an Italian player after Carolina Morace’s 1991 treble Chinese Taipei, Girelli was named Player of the Match – another emotional moment for the 29-year old.
It was surpassed, though, when she was told that Italy’s last group match against Brazil would be shown live at prime time on RAI Uno.
That, after all, is Italy’s national broadcaster’s most watched channel, and was where she watched her idols Roberto Baggio and Alessandro del Piero gracing the No10 shirt for Italy.
At club level, Girelli has won almost everything there is to win in Italy: seven Italian championships, six Italian Cups, and seven Super Cups. But she nearly turned away from a career in the women’s game.
“I started playing football as soon as I could walk, and grew up playing in all-boy squads,” she explained.
“Then my parents wanted to sign me up for a women’s team when I was 14. I told them, ‘Absolutely not, I don’t want to play with girls.’
“They told me that it would be a choice of playing on a girls’ team or not playing at all, and thankfully that helped me make the right decision to continue playing. That led me to where I am now.”