With 94 minutes on the clock of their FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016 group match with Cameroon, and the Africans having just pulled level at 1-1, Venezuela were heading for an early exit. One Vinotinto player who had no intention of packing her bags, however, was Deyna Castellanos.
Lining up for the restart with Nohelis Coronel, the Venezuela captain told her team-mate where she wanted the ball. Coronel obliged by rolling it into her path, at which point Castellanos took a touch and fired a shot from inside the centre circle towards the opposing goal. The Cameroon keeper saw the long-range missile coming but could do nothing to prevent it from hitting the back of the net. That stunning strike, one of the five goals Castellanos scored in Jordan, ultimately helped take La Vinotinto through to the quarter-finals of the competition and was later voted the goal of the tournament by FIFA.com users.
“It’s not easy to score goals like that,” said former Venezuela international Juan Arango. Now plying his trade with New York Cosmos in the USA’s NASL after a successful career in Europe, Arango was rightly proud of the performances of his compatriot and protégé. “She scored that goal right from the halfway line, another from a free-kick, another after turning past two defenders, another after cutting inside her marker and hitting a fierce shot, and another after going round the keeper. Not many players can score the type of goals she does, and I’m talking about men as well as women.”
The greatest player Venezuela has ever produced, Arango knows what he is talking about, having followed Castellanos and her team-mates closely in Jordan: “This women’s team is bringing a lot of joy to the country right now, which makes me really happy.”
Not many players can score the type of goals she does, and I’m talking about men as well as women.
Arango was in touch with Deyna during the competition, just as he has always been since he first saw her in action at the football academy he runs with his brothers. Recalling that occasion, he said: “I can’t remember how many years ago it was when I first saw her play, but I do remember that I was impressed. It was just amazing to see a girl of her age play with such skill and power, hit the ball with either foot and have such an explosive turn of pace.”
Though Castellanos is still only 17, the ex-Vinotinto skipper is convinced she has a brilliant future ahead of her and believes there is no limit to what she can achieve. “Those are all natural skills and she’s got the lot. A few days ago I said to her: ‘I think you’re getting too big for this age group’.
"The way she’s developing, the goals she scored and the gift she has for getting past opposing players just tells me she can achieve big things. I’d even go as far to say that she’s ready to play for one of the world’s big teams. She’s got the ability for that. She’s studying in the USA right now and her studies are important too, because she’s still young. I don’t think it’ll be long before she’s off to Europe, though.”
Predicting just how good the teenage striker might become, Arango said: “It won’t be too long either before she’s the best player in the world, no question. I think Deyna’s the natural heir to Marta or Carli Lloyd. She’s working day in day out towards that. She showed that at the World Cup and I’m convinced she’s going to kick on and be the best.”
Quite apart from her thoroughbred technical and finishing skills, Castellanos caught the eye in Jordan with her ability to perform under pressure, as she showed in hitting her miraculous match-winner against Cameroon: “She learned that from Juan Arango,” said the 36-year-old midfielder with a smile. “I’m delighted to see how natural it all is for her. It’s amazing to see someone so young handle pressure like that.”
Thanks to Castellanos’s leadership and goals, La Vinotinto came fourth at Jordan 2016, while she collected the adidas Bronze Ball and the adidas Bronze Boot to go with her goal of the tournament award. If we take Arango’s word for it, however, the best may be yet to come from Venezuela’s hugely exciting miracle worker.