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Junior Senior with Portugal's Kika Nazareth and Carolina Mendes

Two forwards at opposite ends of their careers discuss development, inspiration and advice for UEFA Women's EURO 2022.

Kika Nazareth and Carolina Mendes
Kika Nazareth and Carolina Mendes UEFA

Forward Carolina Mendes, 34, went down in history as Portugal's first finals goalscorer when she scored in the 2-1 win over Scotland at Women's EURO 2017, and she continues to inspire those around her having now played more than 100 times for her country, with a club career that has also taken in Spain, Italy, Russia, Sweden and Iceland.

At the other end of the age range is Francisca "Kika" Nazareth, who at 19 has made a habit of regular goalscoring for Benfica, and participated in the inaugural UEFA Women's Champions League group stage last season. She netted her first international goals in preparation for Women's EURO 2022, her first senior international tournament.

Below, the pair compare how they started out in football, their opportunities, who influenced them and what it means to represent their country.

When did you start playing football?

Mendes: I started playing football when I was 16 years old. It is a bit late. It was the only team that existed in my area and it was seven-a-side football, and it was all girls.I bet Kika started earlier.

Nazareth: You started a bit late, there are many girls my age that started when they were 10 or 11 years old. I never played football with the boys, but I had a transition from futsal to football - from when I was six until I was 13 or 14 years old I played futsal with boys, and I then transitioned to football and went directly to play with girls.

Developing women's football in Portugal

When did you start to think about a career in football?

Mendes: In my case I had to go abroad because in Portugal, at the time, women’s football was completely amateur, and it was impossible to have a career here. So we had to migrate to be professional players as it was not that professional, and to have some conditions. And after that I started to think I could make a career in football. My road to football was not premeditated, I didn’t say, “I’m going to be a footballer in a few years from now. I want to make it here, I want to make it there”. It wasn’t a planned-out journey, I never thought about winning titles or making it to a certain place.

Nazareth: You had to go abroad to be a professional player? I did not know that. I did not have to think like that, to play abroad or even here. Things just sort of happened. Only recently, I have started to realise – and today I am at a EURO and I still cannot believe it – I am slowly starting to realise that this is real.

Nazareth in Benfica action competing with Lyon's France international, Selma Bacha
Nazareth in Benfica action competing with Lyon's France international, Selma BachaUEFA via Getty Images

Did you have any role models or idols you looked up to that influenced your growth as players?

Mendes: When I started playing football, I didn’t know much about women’s football. I didn’t know anything about the national teams. Things ended up happening a little bit fast. My idols, at the time, were the older players: Carla Couto, Sónia Matias, Edite Fernandes. At that time, I started looking at them in a different way and I started looking at women’s football differently. Also, they played abroad so we were influenced by them, we wanted to be like them and play abroad to have better working conditions. I think that’s when my professional journey started.

Nazareth: This is going to sound bad, but I still don’t know women’s football that well. The first player that I heard about because I trained with her at Benfica was Matilde Fidalgo. And it was just because at the time, she was the most committed; she was the first to arrive and the last to leave. Even nowadays, I’m seeing things, I know more about women’s football, and I’m hearing players' names because I’m a part of it. In terms of role models, and having the chance of being a part of a team such as this one, – there are no better teams than the Portuguese teams – I have to mention Andreia Norton. As a player, she’s anything but simple. She’s special. As a person, I have to say Carolina…

Mendes: She's sucking up to me.

Nazareth: I'm being honest!

How does it feel to represent Portugal at a Women's EURO?

 Mendes  celebrates making history after scoring against Scotland at Women's EURO 2017
Mendes celebrates making history after scoring against Scotland at Women's EURO 2017SPORTSFILE

Mendes: It’s the dream of any player. As a player, you want to play for the best teams, play on the biggest stages and play against the best. My experience of the last EURO was spectacular, we played in packed stadia, that is becoming normal nowadays, that’s how it should be. It was really good, it was positive and I hope that happens again and that it is the same or better than last time.

Nazareth: In general, I’m not just talking about myself, I think over the years, we never thought about making it to a EURO. In 2017, I was 15. I'll have to be honest; I didn't watch it, I didn't know much about women's football. I was at the U17 Women’s EURO in a completely different context - it doesn’t compare to that.

Mendes: Just enjoy the EURO and I’m sure that you will get to enjoy more of them. And just score a lot of goals because we have a little bet going on in the team! As for everything else, just carry on in the same vein. Make people smile.