Sofia Cantore: Turning Sassuolo’s unexpected, beautiful dream of a title challenge into reality

Date: 22nd October 2021 at 9:00am
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Sassuolo are very much a club on the up. The 2020/21 season saw them reach unprecedented heights across both their men’s and women’s teams. For the first time in their history, the Neroverde hit 50 points in Serie A Femminile, an impressive 17 more than their previous best return.

This season they look set to outperform themselves once more. With six games played so far this term, they’ve managed to keep pace with the seemingly untouchable Juventus and find themselves spending the season’s second international window at the top of the table, maintaining a 100 percent record with 18 points and six wins from six games played.

One key piece in the Sassuolo puzzle has been forward Sofia Cantore. The 22-year-old joined the club over the summer and has wasted no time in settling into life in Emilia-Romagna.

“I came here knowing that I could grow a lot,” Cantore told Forza Italian Football in an exclusive interview. “I know what they want from me and I’m slowly putting it into practice. I’m happy with how things are going, but I’ll have to work even harder to continue this form.”

Cantore’s humility does herself a disservice. Her acclimatisation in Sassuolo has been anything but slow. She’s already scored five goals in six games this season, and has as many as nine goals and four assists in her last 11 outings in Serie A Femminile.

Her own individual form, however, isn’t something that she has given much thought to.

“I haven’t really considered the reasons behind my form,” Cantore said. “I think that everybody here is helping me, and I can feel a lot of confidence and trust being put in me from the coach and the whole team.”

For one of Italy’s most exciting talents, Sassuolo has proven to be a perfect home so far. With both the club and Cantore sharing ambitions of wanting to take steps forward this season, it seemed like a perfect fit when she arrived over the summer after spending the previous season on loan from Juventus at Florentia.

“I saw that Sassuolo had a very interesting project, one that had been growing for a few years and one that focuses a lot on young players,” Cantore said, discussing her reasons for choosing the Neroverde.

“They had a great season last year, but I think I would have come here anyway [even without the record-breaking campaign], because this is a well-structured club and it’s one that gives young players a chance to express themselves and to grow.”

Photo Credit: U.S. Sassuolo

Just as Roberto De Zerbi was for the men’s side of things at the club, Gianpiero Piovani is proving to be the glue that holds everything together with the women’s team. He has been a perfect fit on the bench at the Stadio Enzo Ricci, and he knows how to get the best out of the players he has at his disposal.

Cantore, who has regularly celebrated her goals this season by running straight to the bench to embrace her coach and teammates, is aware of the impact he’s had on her career in a short period of time.

“Something that really sets this group aside is the harmonious relationship that exists between everyone here,” Cantore said. “The staff and the players are really close. There’s a lot of constructive criticism and that makes this an ideal environment is ideal for everybody to grow together.

“The coach is great for this reason, as well as his technical quality. He knows how to lead this group by creating a perfect balance.”

Sassuolo’s style of play under Piovani is unmistakable. They move the ball quickly, press relentlessly and have an insatiable thirst for goals. With Cantore and strike partner Lana Clelland, they’ve found a frontline that looks capable of combining for 30 goals this season.

Photo Credit: U.S. Sassuolo

The pair have slotted in seamlessly alongside each other this season, and they already look as though they’ve been teammates for years, rather than having played on opposing sides of a Tuscan derby between Florentia and Fiorentina last term.

“There was an immediate understanding with Lana,” Cantore explained, clearly delighted with the partnership the two have struck up. “She’s a very strong player and has a lot of experience, so I knew that I could learn a lot by training with her every day.

“We’re doing well together so far, and we have complementary attributes. I’m very happy to be playing alongside her.

“We have a good relationship off the pitch too. I know that I can trust her and I hope that she feels the same about me too.”

In no small part thanks to Cantore and Clelland, Sassuolo have positioned themselves as the most likely side to dethrone Juventus this season, if anybody is going to be able to.

Despite having finished third last season and only narrowly missing out on a chance to play in the Women’s Champions League qualification rounds, the Italy forward says that nobody expected them to have started quite as well as they have, nor was anybody contemplating a title challenge ahead of the season getting underway.

“We didn’t expect any of this,” Cantore said. “But we’re really happy with where we are and we want to continue along this path. What we cannot do, though, is to rest on our laurels. We can’t make the mistake of being a young team and taking our foot off the gas, despite our six wins and good performances.

“Honestly, we didn’t set any specific aims from the start. We’ve had some good performances and have picked up some good results, but we’re still just working from game to game without looking too far ahead.”

Photo Credit: U.S. Sassuolo

December 5 is a date on the lips of everyone who follows Serie A Femminile. Sassuolo, having already beaten AC Milan comfortably, play hosts to Juventus in what is sure to be one of the games of the season. Before then, though, the Neroverde have to face Coppa Italia holders Roma, Pomigliano, and Napoli. And only after those matches will they start to think about Juventus.

“We’re not thinking about it,” Cantore said asked about the game with Juventus, which surely means more to her, still on loan at Sassuolo from the Bianconere. “We’re delighted to be at the top of the table with them, and the game in December will be a great game. But we have other games before that.

“It’s always special to play against them, but for now I’m happy to be top of the table alongside them. It’s not something I ever expected, but I’ll go into the game against them as though it’s any other, probably just with a little more emotion involved.”

The games against Roma, Napoli, and Pomigliano will likely present Sassuolo with tests themselves, but Cantore and her Neroverde teammates could well go into that game against Juventus still level on points with the four-time Serie A Femminile champions.

Should both continue winning until then, they’ll have a chance to do something that nobody has managed for a long time, with Juventus having won each of their last 30 Serie A Femminile fixtures. When they travel to Sassuolo, Juventus will have a Women’s Champions League game against Chelsea to come three days later.

Whether or not they manage to be level with Juventus by that December 5 meeting or not, Sassuolo have shown enough already this season to warrant respect from the Bianconere. If anybody is capable of stopping Joe Montemurro’s side from a fifth consecutive title, it looks to be Cantore and the Neroverde.

“I can’t deny that we’ve become aware of the fact that we have a chance to do something great,” Cantore admitted, finally allowing herself to look hopefully ahead. “But for now it’s nothing more than a beautiful dream.”

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