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Giro d'Italia: A short guide to Italian women's football

The women's game is growing exponentially in Italy. As Turin stages the final of the 2021/22 UEFA Women's Champions League, we look at the names, games, places and faces that have put calcio femminile on the map.

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"Hosting the 2022 Women's Champions League final in Italy this year is a unique chance to show how much women's football is loved in our country," says Vito Di Gioia, general secretary of the youth and education department at the Italian Football Federation (FIGC).

Over the past decade, the women's game has expanded rapidly in Italy. A PricewaterhouseCoopers study estimates that, as of December 2021, there are 31,390 female players on the peninsula – a rise of 13.6% from 2018/19 – while TV viewing figures for women's Serie A climbed 25.4% between 2018/19 and 2019/20. In the Piedmont region, of which Turin is the capital, there has been a 40% increase in registered players.

It is no accident that a new generation of Italian women and girls is embracing the beautiful game in Italy. There have been no shortcuts. Instead it is the result of a long journey, led by pioneers and marked by both historic landmarks and milestone moments.

Pioneers

Milena Bertolini
A rock-solid centre-back with 150 Italy caps, Bertolini has completely changed the face of the Azzurre since replacing Antonio Cabrini as national team coach in 2017. She immediately led the team to the FIFA Women's World Cup for the first time in 20 years, ushering in a new era.

Milena Bertolini, Italy coach

"The 2019 World Cup in France changed the perception of women's football in Italy. Women's football is followed more and more, it is appreciated both at a skill level and for the values it conveys."

Carolina Morace
Capped 153 times by Italy and scorer of 105 international goals, Morace has played a key role in developing women's football in her country. In 1999, the Venice native became the first woman to coach a professional men's team (Viterbese in Serie C). She was also the first woman to enter Italian football's Hall of Fame in 2014 and is a popular TV pundit, peaking with the show Il Gol Sopra Berlino (The goal over Berlin) during Italy's 2006 FIFA World Cup triumph.

Patrizia Panico
A prolific striker, Panico was the second woman to enter Italian football's Hall of Fame – a year after Morace – following a scintillating career which included 110 goals in 204 games for the Azzurre. She was Serie A top scorer for 14 seasons and lifted the Scudetto ten times. Panico also followed Morace's path into coaching, starting with Italy's youth teams before moving into women's football in 2021 at Fiorentina.

Sara Gama
The current Italy and Juventus captain's achievements extend far beyond the pitch. In 2018, the famous doll brand Barbie included Gama in their 'Shero' line, based on inspirational real-life women – recognition of the five-time Scudetto winner's inspiration role in furthering the cause of women's football.

Sara Gama, Italy and Juventus captain

"It's my target to be a role model for a new generation of girls who want to break down barriers in sport, which often exist in everyday society too."

Playmakers

Playmakers is a joint initiative between UEFA and Disney, getting young girls involved in football
Playmakers is a joint initiative between UEFA and Disney, getting young girls involved in footballSPORTSFILE

Thanks to a brilliant new initiative from the FIGC, UEFA and Disney, young Italian girls aged between five and eight are getting involved in football and sport. The Playmakers project uses Disney stories and characters to teach children core life values like teamwork and leadership through sport.

"We are retelling Disney fables but with football," says Di Goia.

Historic landmarks

The 2016 edition was the first UEFA Women's Champions League final to be staged in Italy
The 2016 edition was the first UEFA Women's Champions League final to be staged in ItalyUEFA via Getty Images

Reggio Emilia
On 26 May 2016, Sassuolo's Stadio Città del Tricolore in Reggio Emilia hosted the first UEFA Women's Champions League final played on Italian turf. It required a penalty shoot-out to settle the game after a 1-1 draw between Wolfsburg and Lyon, the French team holding their nerve to claim a third title.

Florence
In June 2016, the FIGC staged the first ever national competition for Under-12 girls' teams – a sign of its commitment to increasing participation rates at all levels of women's football.

Turin
A crowd of 39,027 – the largest ever for a women's match in Italy – watched Juventus defeat Fiorentina on 24 March 2019.

Milestone moments

Serie A action between Lazio and Inter
Serie A action between Lazio and InterGetty Images

26 March 2015
The FIGC approved a plan for the growth and development of calcio feminile, paving the way for series of initiatives and reforms aimed at transforming women's football in Italy. These include a government law in 2019 which ensures Italian women's Serie A will be fully professional by the start of the 2022/23 season.

Women's World Cup 2019
The Italian women's team qualified for their first World Cup tournament in 20 years, attracting a new generation of supporters by reaching the quarter-finals in France. Some 4.6 million Italians tuned in to watch the Azzurre defeat China in the round of 16.

Roberto Mancini, Italy men's national team coach

"Thanks girls, you transformed a dream into reality. You gave visibility and pride to women football in Italy; we are proud of you."

UEFA Women's Champions League final – Turin, 21 May 2022
"We will have a huge audience and visibility," says Di Gioia. "It will be so inspirational for the children to see the world's stars play; it will help future generations create new targets and dreams."

This article is an edited version of the interview which appears in the official UEFA Women's Champions League final programme.

Buy the official UWCL final programme