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The Ecuadorian Monica Quinteros was on the verge of quitting football in early 2014, convinced she had gone as far as she could despite more than 20 goals in the championship for her club. With seemingly no chance of making a living from her passion, she felt duty bound to focus instead on her work as a physical education teacher in Guayaquil.
And while the striker was finally convinced to preserve and even juggle the demands of her job with playing for the national team, things came to a head when the squad were obliged to spend two months in Quito to prepare for and compete in last year’s Copa America Femenina – South America’s qualifying event for the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ Canada 2015. Her college considered it too long to be away from her class and denied her permission to leave – a decision that seemed to dash any hope she had of ever gracing women’s football’s premier event.
But the story does not end there. Her team-mates finished third in the regional qualifying event, earning a two legged intercontinental play-off against CONCACAF representatives Trinidad and Tobago. Moreover, Ecuador coach Vanessa Arauz kept the door open for the 26-year-old, giving her 45 minutes in the first leg at home (0-0) and a starting place in the return. Quinteros repaid that faith with a 91st minute strike to secure her side’s historic qualification for Canada 2015.
"Before the game Vane told me: ‘This is your moment, visualize that and go and realise your dream’,” the player told FIFA.com. "I remember it like it was yesterday – how the ball was whipped in from left sideline. I couldn’t believe that defenders that tall didn’t clear it, then I remember getting my head to it. The ref didn’t immediately give it so I didn’t scream right away, and after that it’s all a blur,” she added with a trademark beaming smile.
Early passion, precocious talent
-->Contrary to what you might expect, Monica has her mother to thank for getting her started in football. “Mi mum played when she was younger and I used to help her with her kit bag when I was just six or seven. One day, when I was about 10, I played in a game with her and realised it was my passion,” revealed this supporter of “both our Barcelona and the Spanish one”.
At 13 she was discovered by Gary Estupinan, widely considered the father of Ecuadorian women’s football. “He noticed I was strong and fast, but lacking in technique. So he worked together and he made me into a forward,” said Quinteros. Estupinan later brought her into the national youth set-up, once saying of his young charge: “If you give her an inch, she’ll get through the gap and finish with ease.”
To those who knew her, it was no great surprise when the bourgeoning striker competed in a World Cup qualifier for the senior team before her 14th birthday, or, when one year later, she began scoring crucial goals like the one that earned Ecuador a berth in the final qualifying phase of the South American U-19 Women’s Championship. And though her side would ultimately miss out on a ticket to Thailand 2004 for the world finals in that category, Quinteros had already made her mark.
Humility and sense of duty
--> One of six siblings, Monica never compromised her values despite all the attention received. Indeed, with her very first pay-check as a footballer, she bought her family a kitchen appliance. Then there is the long list of injuries which might have worn down a less determined person. “I broke the radius and ulna in my left forearm as well as my collar bone, and I’ve damaged cartilage in my knee. But I used to watch our men qualifying for their World Cups and I wanted the same thing,” said this ardent admirer of Carlos Tenorio and Agustin Delgado.
This same determination brought her a university degree and much-appreciated work. Such were the sacrifices involved that she is not bitter about having to choose that over the recent Copa America. “It took a huge effort to get where I am today in my work. It’s how I earn a living and so I couldn’t jeopardise that. In addition, not many people gave us a chance of qualifying. However, we made it, so now’s the time to look to the future.”
Asked how it was on returning to her college after the play-off triumph, Monica broke into another smile and said, “The school authorities, teachers and students gave me a really beautiful reception. Then they all joked with me about keeping my feet on the ground, as if qualifying for a World Cup would make me do foolish things!” And while she was not fully prepared for all the attention it garnered, she is focusing on the positives. “Quite a few students have said to me, ‘Teacher, I want to play at a World Cup like you’. I always tell them it’s not something that just happens overnight; it requires a lot of sacrifice, hard work and determination.”
Quinteros’ focus now is on being part of the squad for Canada 2015, where “getting past the first round would be a major success”. After that she will probably consider retirement again. Come what may, her wonderful header against Trinidad and Tobago will go down in history like the goal of Ivan Kaviedes, whose strike took the senior men’s team to their first FIFA World Cup™ at Korea/Japan 2002. “It’s too early to think of it like that,” she said as our interview drew to a close. “Perhaps with time it will take on a different meaning. For now, though, I just want to realise my dream of playing at a World Cup.”