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Linda Caicedo: Colombian superstar lighting up World Cup

July 31, 2023

Debut for Colombia at 14, a cancer battle at 15, a high-profile transfer to Real Madrid, and now a World Cup at 18. Linda Caicedo is one of football's hottest prospects and she's elevating Colombia's world standing.

Linda Caicedo celebrates a goal with her arms outstretched.
Caicedo's goal against Germany will be replayed for yearsImage: Hu Jingchen/Xinhua/IMAGO

There are moments in football when the world stops and takes notice. And Linda Caicedo single-handedly turning the tide against Germany in a 2-1 victory will hold iconic status until the end of history.

The 18-year-old hadn't been in the game, but one sign of a generational talent is the ability to turn on the magic in an instant.

Her debut tournament has started with a bang: two games, two victories and two eye-catching goals. Caicedo's name is currently the hottest in women's football.

"She's a very special player. She just blows you away," Colombia goalkeeper Catalina Perez told DW.

Caicedo's sudden explosion is reminiscent of Brazilian legend Marta's own debut World Cup, when the then 18-year-old also announced herself with two goals in her first two matches.

Such a comparison with one of football's greatest ever players is indicative of the buzz surrounding Caicedo, whose background makes her incredible rise even more extraordinary.

"She's a very strong person," Perez said. "A lot of people don't know all that she's been through and all that she's overcome. To see her really glowing and bringing so much light, it's awesome. She really deserves it."

Fighting cancer amid breakout accolades

The fact that Caicedo has been able to exhibit her skills on the world stage is already a miracle. At just 15, when most teenagers are stressing about acne, her world in the town of Candelaria was turned upside down.

She'd already finished atop the goalscoring charts on the way to lifting the Liga Aguila Femenina title with America de Cali in 2019 and made her international debut, still aged just 14. But in March 2020, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

"At the time, I didn't think I could play professionally again because of all the treatments and surgeries I had to go through," Caicedo told FIFA.

She underwent surgery to remove a tumor and one of her ovaries before undergoing six months of chemotherapy.

"Mentally, it was a very difficult moment in my life. I'm forever grateful that it happened when I was very young. I was able to recover. I also had my family's support. And I feel very good now. What happened made me grow. I feel thankful and happy to be here."

Days after Caicedo was declared cancer-free, she was already back in training with new club Deportivo Cali and won the club's first title in 2021 alongside national teammates Maria Usme and Daniela Arias.

And in February this year, shortly after her 18th birthday, the pint-sized dynamo secured a life-changing move to Real Madrid following a whirlwind tour on the international scene.

Linda Caicedo controls the football while playing for America de Cali.
Caicedo made her club debut aged just 14 in 2019Image: Juan Pablo Rueda Bustamante/ZUMA Wire/IMAGO

Three World Cups in one year

Colombia may be playing a World Cup in Australia, but given the rousing reception they've received at both their games so far at the Sydney Football Stadium, they can't have felt too far away from home.

"Colombians are everywhere, Colombians unite and they're just super supportive," Perez told DW.

About 25,000 fans flocked to the SFS at midday on a Monday for the Korea match and more than 40,000 packed it out against Germany. The majority were Colombians, and the largest cheers for both matches were reserved for Caicedo.

There's good reason for her popularity in her home nation. Her stock has skyrocketed in the past 12 months, ever since she truly burst into public consciousness with her performances in the 2022 Copa America Femenina on home turf in July.

Colombia lost 1-0 in the final against Brazil, but Caicedo was named player of the tournament after netting two goals, including the winner against Argentina in the semifinals. A moment she described as "unforgettable."

A month later, she was at the under-20 World Cup in Costa Rica, scoring another two goals before Colombia again lost 1-0 to Brazil, this time in the quarterfinals.

Next up, she was joint top-scorer with three goals at October's under-17 World Cup in India, where Colombia fell 1-0 in the final against Spain.

And now, the real deal at the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Football fanatic from 'another planet'

After her goal against South Korea, where she cut inside from the left and sent a fierce shot through the fumbling hands of goalkeeper Yoon Young-geul, assistant coach Mario Abadia claimed she was "from another planet."

"She wants the ball, and she never hides. She brings joy to everyone, it's great seeing players like her evolving and taking ownership of games," he said.

Caicedo herself showed her maturity and humbleness in the same press conference.

"I've always said that I'm very young, extremely young, in fact," Caicedo said. "It's my first World Cup with the senior team and I want to savor every moment with no pressure. I know how young I am and that I still have much to learn and the experience I have to get."

But the goal against Germany is the one that will be rebroadcast across the world for years to come. The moment a star was born as she bamboozled Germany's defense and curled a stunning effort into the top corner.

Linda Caicedo makes the heart shape with her hands after scoring a goal.
Linda Caicedo is a generational talent for ColombiaImage: Hu Jingchen/Xinhua/IMAGO

Burnout concerns amid hyped future

For all her talent, however, there are concerns over how that heavy physical toll will affect her still developing body. Caicedo went down in training before the Germany game clutching her chest before being cleared to play.

"She was fine, that was just a miscommunication," a tight-lipped Perez told DW of the training incident.

But in the 85th minute against Germany she went down again, first to her knees, then full stretch with her face nestled in the turf.

Colombia's medics wanted her off the field, signaling to the coaching bench that she should be substituted. However, Caicedo herself produced a thumbs up and subsequently reentered the pitch.

"We know that Linda has had some problems in the past but nothing to be worried about," assistant coach Angelo Marsiglia told the postgame press conference. "She was very tired of course. She had a bit of acceleration in her heart but it wasn't a problem and she decided to continue and finish the game."

Colombia forward Linda Caicedo lies on the ground as she is treated by medical staff.
Caicedo slumped to the turf against GermanyImage: Mark Evans/AAP/IMAGO

At such an age, and considering her intense workload, it raises concerns over management and burnout. Questions should be asked whether Colombian football really needed their star player to appear in four major tournaments within the space of 12 months across three different age groups.

In September, she'll start her first full season of European football with Real Madrid, which will include midweek games in the Champions League. In an era where injuries in women's football are piling up, Caicedo may have to manage her own expectations.

Of course, the player herself just wants to do what she loves the most — play football. And given her own perspective-shifting scrap with cancer, she's in the best position to determine her own path.

"I believe my strengths are my humility and joyfulness," Caicedo told FIFA. "My strengths in the field are being able to be myself with the gift God gave me, having fun, which is the most important thing, and from that point, letting my game flow.

"I try to see everything that has happened to me as a good thing and try to have fun, because playing football is my passion."

That passion and drive should see her delighting fans across the globe for many more years to come.

Edited by Matt Ford

Janek Speight Sports reporter and editor