KATHRYN BATTE: Colombia star Linda Caicedo will have no fear heading into England quarter-final clash… the 18-year-old’s journey to the World Cup has been nothing short of remarkable
- England’s Lionesses have secured their place in the World Cup quarter-finals
- They’ll take on a Colombia team filled with exciting talent, including Caicedo
- The 18-year-old will have no fear heading into the clash with the Lionesses
After England had edged past Nigeria on penalties, Lucy Bronze said no other team in this World Cup had faced as much adversity as them.
The Lionesses came into this tournament in the midst of a bonus row with the Football Association, have had to deal with injuries to key players and now their top scorer Lauren James is suspended, possibly for the rest of the competition.
But those problems pale into insignificance when you consider what their quarter-final opponents, Colombia, have had to face.
None more so than their star player, Linda Caicedo. The 18-year-old’s journey to this World Cup is nothing short of remarkable.
Having made her senior international debut at the tender age of 14, Caicedo has long been one of her country’s most promising players. But her whirlwind career was nearly over before it had begun.
Colombia star Linda Caicedo has become one of the stand out stories of the World Cup
The 18-year-old’s journey to the World Cup is nothing short of remarkable – just like her performances on the pitch for her nation
They’ll take on the Lionesses – who have been less than convincing throughout the tournament
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Caicedo started to feel a pain in her abdomen. After several tests, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Still only 15, Caicedo underwent surgery to remove a tumour and one of her ovaries.
The surgery was successful and Caicedo was able to recover, but her future in football was still uncertain.
‘At the time, I didn’t think I could play professionally again because of all the treatments and surgeries I had to go through,’ Caicedo told FIFA. ‘Mentally, it was a very difficult moment in my life.’
After six months on the sidelines, Caicedo returned to training with her club Deportivo Cali, days after her final round of chemotherapy.
‘I’m forever grateful that it happened when I was very young. I was able to recover, I also had my family’s support and I feel very good now. What happened made me grow. I feel thankful and happy to be here.’
It was in 2022 when Caicedo really announced herself on the big stage. Colombia hosted the Copa America and the midfielder scored the winning goal against Argentina to send her team through to the final.
While Colombia were narrowly defeated by Brazil in the final, Caicedo was named Most Valuable Player and also won the Player of the Tournament award.
A month later, Caicedo scored twice to help Colombia reach the knockout stage of the U20 World Cup, eliminating Germany in the process.
On a number of occasions, Caicedo has stepped up and produced the goods for her nation
She stole headlines after scoring a tremendous goal against Germany in the group stage
Later that year she helped make history as she captained the U17 side to the country’s first ever appearance in a World Cup final at any level. Colombia were narrowly beaten 1-0 by Spain but Caicedo picked up the Bronze Boot and Silver Ball awards.
Her performances at international level earned the midfielder a move to Real Madrid in February this year, days after her 18th birthday. Now Caicedo is at her third World Cup in 12 months and making more history, with Colombia reaching the quarter-finals for the first time ever.
The tournament has not been without complications for the midfielder. She collapsed holding her chest in training before Colombia’s game with Germany and was taken to hospital.
The Colombian Football Federation insisted Caicedo was fine and just suffering from fatigue. She started and scored against Germany but similarly fell to her knees again.
There were questions over whether she should have been allowed to play and why she was not substituted until the sixth minute of injury time, but the midfielder does not appear to have suffered any issues since.
Caicedo is just one part of Colombia’s incredible story. The team has also had to overcome allegations of discrimination and sexual abuse.
In 2019, the former physiotherapist of the U17 side claimed she was targeted by manager Didier Luna and alleged players had also been groomed by the same man.
During last year’s Copa America, players protested against the cancellation of the women’s domestic league by raising their fists ahead of their game with Paraguay. Since the 2015 World Cup, there have also been issues over pay and working conditions.
The 18-year-old has overcome adversity a number of times in her career to reach this stage
Colombia have undoubtedly had the rockiest road of any team left in this World Cup. As well as their manager Nelson Abadia being suspended for their first two games, their preparation was disrupted when their warm-up game with the Republic of Ireland was abandoned.
Vera Pauw said the Colombian players had been ‘overly physical’ and that her team ‘feared for their bodies’. In response, Daniela Caracas said their opponents could ‘eat s***’.
Whether it be life-threatening diseases, discrimination or criticism, Colombia has faced and overcome it all. They will not be scared by England.
After her goal in Colombia’s opening game against South Korea, assistant boss Angelo Marsiglia said that Caicedo is ‘from another planet’. Off the pitch, the issues England and Colombia have faced are worlds apart. On the pitch, Caicedo and co will be aiming to show they are very much in the same league.
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