Christiane Endler stutters and tries to find the words. “Pucha,” she says, a very Chilean expression of shock.
Considering just three years ago Chile – the national team she captains – didn’t even have a FIFA ranking, the thought of leading them out against Sweden on June 11 at the World Cup is still scarcely believable.
Endler will be making history against Tuesday’s far more illustrious opponents, ranked 30 places above the South Americans, as the first woman to captain Chile at a World Cup.
“It’s emotional, I’m very happy,” she told CNN in Paris, the home city of her club team Paris Saint-Germain Feminines. “For me, the most incredible thing is representing Chile and we hope to do it in the best possible way.
“We’re very excited that we’ll do exactly that and very emotional to live a first World Cup. I hope to arrive (in France) in the best condition possible. You never know what can happen but I’m working hard to represent my country well.”
Chile qualified for France 2019 with a 4-0 win over Argentina that earned it second place at last year’s Copa America Femenina, behind only South America’s dominant force, Brazil.
It was the first time Chile had ever hosted the competition and in front of an 18,200 sellout crowd in La Serena, a city 470 kilometers north of Santiago, players and fans celebrated the historic achievement of these women long into the night.
“It was very emotional,” Endler recalls. “The stadiums were full supporting us all the time. It was really pleasing to have been there and to have shared that experience with my teammates.
“I think everyone will remember those moments forever, they were truly lovely.”
‘I didn’t even know it existed’
Growing up, Endler never dared dream she would achieve so much as a footballer.
Her first memories of football are kicking a ball around with her older brother in their childhood home. She credits him with being the biggest influence on her as a footballer, instilling a love of the sport in her from an early age.
Despite her passion, there was very little, if any, opportunity for girls and women to play football in Chile, Endler says, and even fewer opportunities to watch it.
“I never imagined reaching so far because I didn’t even know that important women’s football (championships) existed,” she explains. “That they played important tournaments like the Champions League or professional domestic leagues at the time.
“In Chile we never had a reference in women’s football, somebody who had left and tried their luck outside. There was very little that was known but once it started growing, we saw that this reality existed and we could achieve things in women’s football.”
It was only when she started attending a German high school – Endler’s father is German – that she was able to properly play football with some structure and, such were her talents, played both as a goalkeeper and a striker.
But given the lack of participants in women’s football “we just had to play with boys because there was no other option,” she recalls.
Endler eventually decided to dedicate herself to becoming a goalkeeper and in 2008 was rewarded with a call up to represent Chile in the Under-20 Women’s World Cup.
That the tournament was hosted on home soil only added to its significance. For many in the country, this was the first time they had ever been exposed to women’s football.
And for the young women taking part, it was the first time they had been treated as professionals.
“We had great preparation, a full year training and dedicating ourselves exclusively to that event,” she recalls.
Endler was just 17 years old at the time and although Chile didn’t make it out of the group stages, that squad still made history.
“It was incredible to play in the first Women’s World Cup that Chile had ever competed in, at any age group,” she says. “In Chile, with the support of so many people, the stadiums were always full. For me, it will be an experience that I will never forget and has been one of the best I’ve had in my life.
“I did quite well,” she adds humbly. “I had a lot of recognition from different parts and they also called me from a university in the US to continue playing and study at the same time.
“In that moment I reali