Six months ago, 18-year-old Mariana Speckmaier's sights were set on carving out a professional football career in the United States while studying a degree in business administration and finance. But one fine day the phone rang at her house in Florida and the call changed her plans, at least for a while.
Speckmaier decided to delay starting at college in order to embark on an exciting new adventure that took her out of her comfort zone. Having today entered the history books as the first player to score for Venezuela at a FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup, it is not premature to say that the gamble paid off.
The voice on the other end of the line half a year ago belonged to Jose Catoya, the coach of the Venezuelan U-20 women's national team, who wanted a word with Mariana's father. "My sister Paulina had played for them in the 2014 South American U-20 Women's Championship, so the coach knew about me through her. He followed my games in the USA and then he called my dad to ask if I wanted to play. I said yes!" the youngster told FIFA.com after her side were beaten 3-1 by Germany in their Papua New Guinea 2016 opener.
Born and raised in Florida, but eligible to represent Venezuela through her father, her adaptation to the La Vinotinto set-up was not seamless: "I found it tough to integrate into a team in which the players had been playing together for a long time. But fortunately I've got to know them better over the last six months and now I can say that I feel at ease."
Worth the effort
Her sister was there to support and reassure her during the challenging early stages. "Paulina warned me that it'd be difficult at the beginning because ultimately playing in the States and for Venezuela is very different – the style of play isn't the same," said the No18. "But she also told me to give it a shot and that it would work out at the end of the day – that despite there being a bit of a language barrier, I would have some great moments and incredible experiences."
Speckmaier's efforts and patience were rewarded against Germany, when a through-ball presented her with a golden opportunity to make Venezuelan sporting history, one which she did not spurn. Bearing down on Carina Schluter in the box, she opted for placement over power and slid a composed finish underneath Schluter's body and into the bottom corner to the goalkeeper's left. "It's hard to explain how I feel right now. It's simply an incredible feeling to have scored Venezuela's first Women's U-20 World Cup goal in my very first appearance for my country," she said about her dream debut.
Although the result eventually went against them and so La Vinotinto were unable to claim their first points in the competition, Speckmaier and Co still have ample time – and matches – left to make amends and continue blazing a trail. "We were unlucky in front of goal. We had a lot of chances up front, but we did the best we could and now we've got to analyse what went wrong and improve on it in the next game," concluded the forward, her attention already turned to their next encounter, against Mexico.