160 Caps and Counting

By Phil Egginton

Locally born female footballer, Claudia Neto, has achieved international success and is now captain of Portugal’s national team.

The gap in international sport caused by the recent pandemic gave me the ideal opportunity to chat with the football star. Claudia was born in Portimão but moved to Lagos when she was 11. She attended the Escola Básica da Naus near the Marina and later attended Escola Júlio Dantas near St Amaro market.

So how did she get into playing football?
“My interest came from a very early age. I always liked football. In fact, I preferred playing football to playing with dolls. I used to accompany my father to soccer practice. It was the best of days!” Claudia explained.

I asked her how her parents viewed her playing football? She explained: “I started playing football at school. My father always encouraged me greatly. From a very young age, he saw a special talent in me. My father never let me give up and he became my coach for several years. I’ve had other great coaches who helped me a lot but my father was responsible for most of my training.”

Who did you play for in Lagos? “I first played futsal for União Atlético Clube de Lagos for six years. Futsal is a variant of football played on a hard court, smaller than a football pitch, and mainly indoors. It has similarities to five-a-side football.”

So, how did you get into full 11-a-side football? “After futsal, I emigrated to Spain where I started playing 11-a-side professionally for Prainsa Zaragoza in Aragon. I played for them for six seasons.” You now play in Germany, how did you get there? “After Zaragoza, I played for the top Spanish female team RCD Espanyol de Barcelona for one year. Then I played at Linköping in Sweden and from there I moved to VFL Wolfsburg in Germany. I have been there now for two seasons.”

You are now captain of the Portugal women’s national football team. How did you get appointed to that? Claudia answered modestly, “It was just a natural process. It happened after some other players left the team. I became the player with the most experience and began wearing the captain’s armband.” I suspect this modesty hides her real talent. For example, in 2018, the UK Guardian newspaper ranked her 75th best female footballer in the world. Claudia, who plays in midfield, has 160 caps and has scored 23 goals for the national team.

You have achieved much in your career, which are your best memories? “I have great memories of winning nine titles and also qualifying the National Team for the 2016 European Women’s Championship.”

For the future, what do you want to achieve? “I want to continue winning titles and qualify again for the European championship with the national team.”

Finally, what do you say to anyone who wants to follow a similar career? Claudia answered simply, “Conquer your dreams.” She certainly has done that!

Phil Egginton is a journalist and photographer and now lives in the Algarve.




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