Carla Rebecchi made her international senior debut in 2004 at the Champions Trophy in Rosario. She sat out the first two games of that competition and then came on for the third round robin match against Australia, which Argentina won 5-1. Although Rebecchi didn’t score on that occasion, that was the pivotal moment, when the forward became a permanent fixture in the Las Leonas squad.
The next year, at the Junior World Cup, it was Rebecchi who popped up to score the winning goal in the 70th minute to secure her team a fifth place finish, beating Spain 2-1.
However, while Rebecchi was a regular on the team sheet in those early years – playing in the 2006 World Cup and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games – it was the 2010 World Cup in Rosario that first saw her begin to shine. Across the tournament, Noel Barrionuevo slotted home six penalty corners and Luciana Aymar mesmerised the oppositions’ defences to score five goals, but it was Rebecchi who popped up to score two of Argentina’s three goals as they beat the Netherlands 3-1 to secure the World Cup in front of adoring home fans. Rebecchi habia llegado.
At the London 2012 Olympic Games, Rebecchi was Argentina’s top scorer as they took the silver medal. Her four goals included the goal that defeated host nation Great Britain in the semi-finals, as well as a brace scored against New Zealand in the pool rounds.
The following years saw Rebecchi crowned leading goalscorer at tournament after tournament as she used her speed, agility and vision to find space and scoring opportunities. In all, she scored 168 goals over her 317 games in a Las Leonas kit.
Among the gold medals she will be able to proudly show her daughter, Vera, are six Champions Trophy medals, two Pan American medals, two Pan American Cup medals and, of course, that World Cup medal from Rosario. And that is not even cataloguing the silver and bronze medals that Argentina has won with Rebecchi in the team.
A spell as captain in 2015 saw Rebecchi increase her influence within Las Leonas squad and it is one of the more recent recruits to the famous blue and white team, Agustina Gorzelany, who vocalises how much Rebecchi has inspired a generation of hockey players.
“Carla Rebecchi, an example of perseverance, attitude, humility. An amazing player that throughout the years has been capable of showing that we, athletes, are made by our own strength, and by believing in ourselves.
“Each year that passed, Carla gave us an spectacular show of what being a professional player was like. Not only because of her great game play but also from what she spread from being so tenacious and decisive. The perfect representation of someone who will never to give up!”
But all stellar careers have to come to an end, although Rebecchi did take two attempts before she was finally able to break the Las Leonas bond. In February 2017, she announced her retirement and seven months later Vera was born to Rebecchi and her husband (and former Argentina hockey player) Jorge Lombi. A few months later and Rebecchi was unable to resist the lure of another Olympic Games and so returned to the international scene for one last shot at gold.
In her first game back – a FIH Pro League match against Belgium – Rebecchi stole the show with a performance that won her the Player of the Match award. In the season that followed, the forward twisted, turned and tormented her way past defenders in a manner that suggested she was getting even better than before her retirement.
A nomination for the FIH Player of the Year was a fitting reward but shortly afterwards, Rebecchi made an announcement that was to break the hearts of Las Leonas fans. The postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games until 2021 was a commitment too far for the player and her family.
Explaining her decision to the Argentinian media, Rebecchi said: “Jorge (Lombi) took over looking after Vera, but the matches in New Zealand and Europe, as part of the Pro League, were difficult for me as a mother.
“Tokyo was a target. My dream was to win a gold medal, but that won’t happen now,” she said with touching poignancy. “I don’t know what will be my destiny now, but I do want to be a mother again.”
Rebecchi might not have finished her career with the Olympic gold medal she sought but she has left a treasure trove of memories in the form of match-winning performances and goal-scoring moments of which hockey mortals can only dream.