YouTube hit goal fires Roche into FIFA award elite
GENEVA (AP) — Once a YouTube sensation, Stephanie Roche is enjoying her official place among world football’s elite goal scorers.
“It’s been crazy,” the 25-year-old Ireland forward said on Tuesday as international media clamored for her story the day after FIFA announced she had made its fan-voted Puskas Award shortlist.
Roche was home during the World Cup joining a huge global television audience when she saw Robin van Persie and James Rodriguez score perhaps the tournament’s best goals.
Only 95 fans were present to see Roche score a goal just as spectacular for Peamount United in the part-timers’ tiny stadium near Dublin in October 2013.
Still, Roche threatens to upstage the Netherlands and Colombia stars in their unlikely three-way contest for the annual most beautiful goal award.
“I’m just happy to have a chance of winning the Puskas Award,” Roche told The Associated Press by telephone from France where she now plays as a professional.
On a frenzied day, she even told a Colombian radio station interviewer: “I think van Persie should win.”
These are rare times for Roche.
Since FIFA launched the award in 2009, winners have included Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The others, Hamit Altintop and Miroslav Stoch, are also seasoned international veterans.
No woman has been even close to winning despite FIFA including goals from all levels in the 10 candidates it offers each year.
Then, few women ever scored a goal like Roche.
Taking three touches of a ball which never hit the ground, Roche cushioned a right-flank cross with her right foot, flicked the ball back over her head, turned and lashed a dipping left-footed volley from the edge of the penalty area.
“I’ve always practiced my technique. I was just happy that it has paid off,” Roche said, with some understatement.
The moment might have simply stayed in the memories of a lucky few but for the opposing team filming the match, and sharing a DVD.
Original footage posted by Roche’s team manager, Eileen Gleeson, has more than 3.3 million views on YouTube. The clip on FIFA’s YouTube channel neared 1 million on Tuesday.
However, as a Manchester United fan, Roche likes Van Persie’s diving header looping lazily over goalkeeper Iker Casillas in a 5-1 rout of Spain.
“That was a great goal. It obviously has something different to it,” she said.
The chance to meet Van Persie at the Jan. 12 award ceremony in Zurich is a highlight of Roche’s personal journey.
The two great forwards of modern women’s football, Marta of Brazil and Abby Wambach of the United States, should also be there, renewing rivalry in the FIFA women’s player of the year award.
Roche has since joined them in the pro ranks, with French club ASPTT Albi.
“It did help,” Roche said of the goal that raised her profile. “I came over on trial and enjoyed my experience. It’s great to be able to say I am playing football fully professionally.”
And while it might be Roche’s once-in-a-lifetime chance to carry off a trophy at the FIFA Ballon d’Or event, it was not an unrepeatable goal. She did it again on demand last week.
“I was able to replay it for French TV,” she said.