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.
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
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?
or outside-mid, depending on the game.
Q: How did the team do early in the tournament's pool play
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.
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
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
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
Q: Your goal forced a tie with Paraguay. Then what happened in the
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.