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This is Sara Gama’s long-awaited shot on the World Cup stage

Juventus Women’s captain has more caps than any active Italy player, but she will be making her Women’s World Cup debut this weekend just like everybody else on her team.

Italy Women Training Session And Press Conference Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images

There are lot of comparables when talking about Juventus’ two captains, Giorgio Chiellini and Sara Game. It’s not just the fact that they both the heart of their team’s defense, wear the No. 3 jersey for both club and country or that they are very down-to-earth and quiet leaders.

The difference is that while Chiellini has seemingly played for Italy in virtually every international tournament the Azzurri has taken part in for the last decade or so, Gama’s Azzurre side just simply hasn’t had the kind of major opportunity to show what kind of strides forward the women’s game has taken on the peninsula.

Until now.

Gama, part of Juventus Women’s eight-player contingent in France this summer, has over 100 international caps to her name. Not one of them, though, has come at the Women’s World Cup. At the age of 30, Gama won’t just be wearing the captain’s armband come Italy’s group stage opener against Jamaica on Sunday. It will be the culmination of a process that has been 20 years in the making — a two-decade long wait to see the Italian women’s national team get back to the Women’s World Cup.

Italy’s most-capped player currently active is helping usher in a new era of Italian women’s football — one that involves a better domestic product and the country’s biggest club teams all investing in Serie A Femminile and the Azzurre trying to make appearing at the Women’s World Cup more than just a one-time deal. Instead, this could be the starting point — and there’s a quiet yet stalwart face with her trademark hairdo leading the way.

Italy Women v Belgium Women - FIFA Women’s World Cup Qualifier
Sara Gama (C) of Italy is awarded by Vice President FIGC Michele Uva (R) and Alessandro Costacurta (L) prior to the FIFA Women’s World Cup Qualifier between Italy and Belgium at Stadio Paolo Mazza on April 10, 2018 in Ferrara, Italy.
Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

There are older players on Italy’s roster who will likely be playing in their one and only World Cup this summer. But when it comes to experience on the international stage or the amount of international caps they have accumulated over their national team careers, nobody on Italy’s 23-player roster comes close to Gama’s totals.

Experience is the name to her game, but so is the calming presence Gama brings to the back of an Italian defense that doesn’t come close to having her kind of veteran status. And when it comes to how Italy can be successful at this World Cup and potentially surprise many by taking one of the top two spots away from group favorites Brazil and Australia.

Gama has won everything there is to win at the domestic level within Serie A. She’s won Scudetti during her time with Brescia. She’s been one of Juventus Women’s best players during the club’s impressive two-year run to begin life in the women’s football game.

Now, for a player who made her international debut the same summer where we were watching Gigi Buffon, Alessandro Del Piero, Fabio Cannavaro and the rest of Italy’s golden generation work their way to the country’s fourth World Cup, this is the biggest moment yet to show that the Azzurre’s game has developed plenty over the last handful of years.

And when it comes to the woman they have leading them along this journey, the soft-spoken yet quite-talented Gama is the captain that this Italy team so desperately needs.

The reward this time last year might have been just getting to the Women’s World Cup and ending Italy’s two-decade-long drought. But now that the Azzurre are in France and preparing for their first group stage match this weekend, putting their best foot forward is the easy-to-figure-out goal. And when it comes to Italy not allowing goals, it all starts with the player who wears No. 3 and the captain’s armband.