- Nicole overcame sexist jibes to become a goalkeeper
- She kept four consecutive clean sheets at the CONMEBOL U-20s
- She believes Brazil “have everything” to win Costa Rica/Panama 2020
“’It’s going to be easy to score today – they’ve got a girl in goal,’ they used to say, laughing.”
Nicole was merely ten years old. New to football. New to the chauvinistic undercurrents of a tiny-town Brazil in the early 2010s.
“The jibes really hurt at first,” the native of Taió, a tranquilising municipality in Santa Catarina, continued. “But my desire to quit didn’t compare to my desire to prove them wrong, prove that girls could save shots from boys.”
It was through a boy that Nicole inadvertently got into football: her twin brother.
“I started playing football when I was nine,” she said. “My dad put my brother in for football training. Because we did everything together, I went along so he didn’t have to go on his own.
“Everyone always wants to dribble and score goals, but I thought the training exercises the goalkeepers did were the ultimate! I told my dad then that I wanted to play in goal and that was it. I would really like watching Julio Cesar and Manuel Neuer.
“There were no women’s teams in Taió, so that’s why I started playing for the boys’ team. Soon I was playing for them in tournaments, and that’s when I would hear the mocking.”
Nobody is mocking Nicole now. She turned pro at superpower Santos at the age of 17 and is now charged, on a day-to-day basis, with saving shots in training from Laryh and the legendary Cristiane. She went to the FIFA U-17 World Cup Jordan 2016™ and was, at 18, the youngest member of Brazil’s FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup France 2018™ squad.
She’s one of only two Brazilian female goalkeepers to have a global glove sponsorship. And she kept four clean sheets in four appearances, headlined by an exceptional save from Paraguay’s Jessica Sanchez, this month as A Seleção cruised into the second stage of South American U-20 Women’s Championship, where they, Colombia, Uruguay and Venezuela will fight for two tickets to Costa Rica/Panama 2020.
“It was a perfect campaign,” said the 19-year-old. “We got 12 points, scored a lot of goals and didn’t concede.
“It was really important for the confidence of the squad. We’re really confident we will qualify for the world finals.
“And we’ve got everything to win it. A great team, great progress in training, a great coaching staff. In my head, we can go really far.”
And after warming benches as an under-aged player at two FIFA tournaments, Nicole, who rates Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Alisson and Christiane Endler as the sport’s best goalkeepers, is now first-choice for the Brazil U-20s.
“The two World Cups were both incredible experiences,” she said. “They were both really important for my career. They matured me a lot.
“To be at a World Cup is already wonderful, but to play at one would be something else. It would make me feel fulfilled. I think for every athlete, playing in a World Cup is the ultimate dream.
“I’m really, really excited at the prospect of doing so. This year has been really good for me so far, so I really hope to get there in good and then to give a positive account of myself.”
2020 began, for the unassuming youngster, with Brazil internationals Tayla and Cristiane, as well as reigning Campeonato Brasileiro Fans’ Player of the Year Laryh, entering through the Santos gates.
“Initially I was a little nervous,” said Nicole. “They were athletes I’d seen on television, who had won so much, who were a benchmark for me, and now I’m training alongside. But everyone has been really nice and it’s great for my growth.
“My friends back home can’t believe I get to train with Cristiane. She’s very welcoming, she talks to everyone.”
The Taió natives are also in awe at Nicole’s success.
“Because it’s really small, everybody knows everybody,” she explained. “The people are really happy that someone was able to go from a small town to achieve the things I’ve achieved.
“Whenever I go there everyone comes to congratulate me. It makes me really pleased. They’re all really proud of me.”
Can you imagine the pride of those 18,000-plus inhabitants if Nicole’s hands pin them on the global map later this year?