Barbara Bonansea is a dreamer. She does so in broad daylight, in the middle of a test, in a tense examination hall, and realises it in even tenser situations on the football field.
Two years ago, Bonansea, a scholar at Università degli Studi di Torino was writing an exam towards her business economy degree which she is determined to complete by 2020. But even amidst those anxious surroundings, other things demanded her attention.
“I was always daydreaming in class,” Bonansea admitted to FIFA.com.
“Little words or phrases would remind me of football, and then I’d be off, deep in thought about playing for Italy in packed-out stadiums at the World Cup, like I envisioned it when I was little and watching the Italian men’s team at the World Cup on TV,” she added.
The Italian was to face Portugal in a FIFA World Cup qualifier two days later, and the possibility of guiding Italy to the FIFA World Cup after a gap of 20 years was too much for her to contain.
Bonansea scored one and assisted another as Italy beat Portugal 3-0 to confirm their first World Cup appearance in two decades. Her daydreaming in class had proven to be prophetic. It didn’t come at a cost as she passed her exam too. Bonansea couldn’t put a foot wrong.
Fast forward to June 2019, Italy faced tournament favourites Australia in their opening game at the World Cup in France. Brazil and Jamaica completed their tough group. Samantha Kerr put the Australians in front inside half an hour. For a team playing at such a stage after so long, the writing seemed to be on the wall. Trailing the Australians at half-time, their return to the showpiece was turning sour
But in Bonansea’s world, things were not so bleak. She dug deep, kept chasing the Australian defenders, and in the 59th minute, her efforts bore fruit. She robbed an Australian defender higher up the field, charged into the empty space inside the box and coolly slotted the equaliser for her team. It was the first Italian goal at World Cups in five years, since Mario Balotelli’s winner against England in Brazil.
Italy had two disallowed goals in the game, one of which was Bonansea’s. But she was never discouraged. She went the extra mile (or in this case an extra foot in the air) to score a winner in the fifth minute of stoppage time and give Italy an unlikely win. The diminutive forward had brought joy to an ailing football nation. Again.
She was carried triumphantly aloft by her teammates after the game, all under the eyes of her parents, who drove the 1,000km from Pinerolo, near Turin, to the north of France in a camper van as her father was afraid to take the plane.
It was all too dreamy, but that’s where it all began.
Between the dream and its realisation, there was plenty of effort put in by the Italian. After an excellent Euro 2017, Bonansea had been contacted by French club Lyon, the best team in Europe.
The opportunity seemed impossible to refuse for an Italian, not having access to professionalism in her own country.
But at the same time, Juventus launched its women’s team and Bonansea, born 20km from the city, could not ignore the call of the black and white striped jersey.
Two seasons, 50 matches and 37 goals later, she has won two Italian league titles with Juventus and one Italian Cup.
While her dribbling, sharp passing, and lethal finishing has drawn comparisons to Paulo Rossi and Ryan Giggs, she has slowly mastered the art of knuckleball free-kicks. If that’s on display at the Women’s World Cup in France, she might just be dubbed the Italian Cristiano Ronaldo by the end of the tournament.
Above all, her success has mirrored the rise of women’s football in Italy. The men’s team failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia last year, with Milena Bertolini’s side now carrying the nation’s hopes on the world stage. Having scored seven goals in their two wins so far, Italy have been termed the surprise package of the World Cup so far.
A Dan Brown reader and an aspiring guitarist, Bonansea pulls the strings for Italy. As they prepare to face Brazil in their final group game on Tuesday, the 28-year-old is tipped to make a big impact. Maybe she has already dreamt of taking Italy to the knockouts. Beware Brazil!
With AFP inputs