Rice freshman soccer player Gabi Iribarne is back on campus and up to speed with her classes this semester.
Iribarne, who holds dual citizenship for both the United States and Argentina, was out of the U.S. the first part of the spring semester while helping the Argentinean Under-20 National Soccer Team play at the South American Women's U-20 World Cup qualifying tournament. As you may have already seen on RiceOwls.com, her Argentinean team (or Las Albicelestes if you're an Argentine futbol fan) came up big with a second place finish to mighty Brazil in the qualifier's gold medal game on Feb. 5.
All of Argentina may have celebrated their soccer success of qualifying for the U-20 World Cup, but Iribarne had to quickly turnaround and return to classes at Rice. After some time to get caught up in her course work and catch her breath from a whirlwind start to the semester, Iribarne recently had enough time to have a Q & A with the R Blog.
Q: How did you get to be on the team for this qualifying tournament, then what was the timetable like for you last December-January when you had to report-in, train and play in the games?
Iribarne: I had been on the Argentinean Under-17 team before, so I had been in the national program. My coach told me he wanted me on the team for this South American Cup, which is the world cup qualifier for South American countries, so the day after semester finals I went down Buenos Aires for a week and a half to practice with the team. We practiced at the national camp field and he told me he wanted me to be a travel member of the team that would go to Brazil in January in the South American Cup.
I came back to Rice, just to start the new semester for a few days, and then left on January 11 for Argentina for more practice. The team then left on January 16 and stayed in Brazil until February 6th. We had seven games where we finished in second place.
Q: How did you work it out that you would be able to miss the first part of the Rice semester?
Iribarne: I was here three days in January to get school started. I talked to my professors. I talked to them and they were supportive and really very helpful. I still had to do the work of course when I was in South America, and I had to do it on my own because no on the team could speak English well enough who would be able to help me. It's hard to learn and do everything on your own. The professors really helped me, but I still had to do the work or it would have been terrible when I got back to Rice.
Q: Just how long a flight is that down to Argentina?
Iribarne: Houston to Buenos Aires was like 10 hours. One time though I went through Atlanta and missed my connection. I got on another flight that went to Santiago Chile, then made it to Argentina and that took like 17 hours.
Q: How long have you held dual-citizenship for the U.S. and Argentina?
Iribarne: I've only had dual citizenship pretty recently, like a year. I wasn't able to play in the U-17 Tournament because I didn't have my dual-citizenship at the time. The paperwork was being processed.
Q: How well do you speak Spanish?
Spanish is my first language actually. I speak it at home with my parents.
Q: What position did you play for Argentina?
Iribarne: Center-mid or outside-mid, depending on the game.
Q: How did the team do early in the tournament's pool play format?
Iribarne: We lost our opening game to Columbia, a very tough team in our bracket. We thought it would be us or them to win the bracket, but after we lost to them in the first game we had to win the rest of our games to move past pool play. There was no margin for error.
We started winning and played Chile in our last pool game and basically if they tied or beat us, they would advance. We had to win to go on. We got a penalty kick in the last minute of the game, which was essentially the last play of the game. It was a legitimate call, and we were just going to see if she would call it in the box or out of the box. We got the PK and ended up winning 3-2.
That was exciting. If we lost we'd be going home, but the top two teams from pool play got to stay another week - medal play.
Q: In medal play there was now just four teams left in the tournament and there was a big game against Paraguay. Describe what happened in that game.
Iribarne: In the second round we had to play Paraguay. We were losing 2-1 and I scored in the second half to tie the game. The whole tournament was held in Brazil, and that night Brazil was playing after us. It was really fun because in the second half that night that's when the stadium started to fill-up. We had some fans, but of course the tournament was in Brazil and everyone wanted to see Brazil. It was exciting. They didn't care which team won the first game, but the love soccer and started cheering when they saw a goal, which was my goal. It was pretty cool.
Q: Your goal forced a tie with Paraguay. Then what happened in the next game?
Iribarne: We ended up getting rematched with Columbia, the team that beat us way back in the first game of the tournament. That loss helped us get focused and this time we won to move on. We were going to play Brazil in Brazil for the gold medal.
Q: Brazil is a country that loves soccer. How was the soccer facility where the medal-round games were held?
Iribarne: It was in a pretty big stadium of one of the top club teams. It was a really nice stadium and there were a good amount of people there
Q: We hear stories about fans at international soccer games. How were the Brazilian fans?
Iribarne: It was a pretty big crowd, and basically everyone was cheering for Brazil. It was still fun playing in front of a crowd, even if it's not your crowd. They appreciate the game. They were loud, but it was in Portuguese so we couldn't really tell what they were saying.
Q: Brazil coasted through the entire tournament winning games by scores of 8-0, 7-0 and 6-0. How did you and Las Albicelestes do in the Gold Medal game?
Iribarne: We lost 2-0, but played pretty well. One of their goals was a penalty kick. We held our own. I think if we played them we'd do even better. We'd know what to expect and we didn't play a lot of other games before the tournament itself.
Q: Explain the added reasons why it was important to play well in the Gold Medal game?
Iribarne: We were playing for the South American Championship, which we wanted to win, but the top two teams from the South American tournament get to play U-20 World Cup later this summer in Japan.
The South American tournament winner would qualify for Japan but it was not automatic, however, that the second place team would get to go. The other South American team (to play in the World Cup) would be determined by goal-differential. Because Brazil was beating teams by really high scores, there was still a chance we wouldn't get to go to Japan if we got beat the same way. We had to play pretty well to avoid that, which we did.
We didn't win the South American championship, but we played well and qualified for the World Cup. Now, by playing well, it gave us a good idea of what to expect in Japan and that's encouraging.
Q: There's a photo of you with an Argentinean flag after one of the games and it appears to say "Rice" on the flag? What's the story on this 'Rice-Argentina' flag?
Iribarne: One of my teammates had the flag. It actually says something else, but it looks like it says "Rice." I truthfully don't know what it says because the lettering is kind of weird, but I see what people are saying that in the photo it looks like it says "Rice." I didn't try and get it to say Rice, but now I kind of want it to say Rice. It was meant to be.
If I go to Japan, I'll make sure I bring one that does say "Rice."
Q: Were your teammates familiar with Rice and is there a chance they could come see you play with your Owl team later this fall?
Iribarne: They knew I was in college and that it's important to me, but I'm not sure if they knew much about Rice University or not. I invited all the girls on my team to come up here to Houston. I'm the only one on the team who speaks English, so that could be a little bit of a language barrier. I would love them to see a Rice soccer game or at least visit?
Q: Was it tough to get back in the swing of classes at Rice and how has the adjustment been to be back in the United States?
Iribarne: I was pretty difficult getting back into the school routine initially. I'm caught-up and the professors have really been helpful. One of the biggest changes has been the weather. The seasons are reversed in South America, and where we were in Brazil was really tropical. It's been good to come back to Rice and Houston. I got to come back, wear sweaters for a little while and speak English.