Kuc: I swap all my awards to help Montenegro reach a major tournament

  • Montenegro have jumped to 85th on the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking

  • Their progress owes much to all-time record scorer Armisa Kuc

  • The striker discusses her aspirations

Marred by the COVID-19 pandemic, the year 2020 was not exactly memorable for the right reasons. In the case of Montenegro's women's team, it left a bitter taste in purely sporting terms as well, with the national side losing all five of their matches during the calendar year. Naturally, that record also hit them hard on the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking, with the team slipping to their lowest ever placing of 98th at the start of 2021. The need to bounce back was obvious – and Montenegro duly responded. Between August and December this year, the women's side pulled off their biggest improvement on the global ladder, climbing 13 places thanks to a series of noteworthy performances. Particularly impressive against Bosnia and Herzegovina, they are now set to head into 2022 as high as 85th – just seven places below their best-ever position of 78th from 2017. "Good results don't happen overnight," Montenegro forward Armisa Kuc told FIFA.com. "It's a long process punctuated by highs and lows. We've worked hard, knowing that the experience we've picked up over recent years and our serious attitude in training would end up paying off. "And none of this would have been possible without the support of our federation and its president, Dejan Savicevic, as well as our coaching staff headed by Mirko Maric. This really was our year."

The 29-year-old is certainly well placed to pass judgement. With 58 appearances and 21 goals to her name, she is not just Montenegro's most-capped player of all time but also their record scorer. In short, the Minsk ace has already secured her status as a legend of the Montenegrin game, though she is reluctant to turn the spotlight on herself.

"I'm pleased to be able to share my experience with the youngest players," she said. "Together we're a real family. The relationships within the team are very healthy and the age difference doesn't stand in the way of the friendship that unites us. "On the pitch, I try to lead by example and to be beyond reproach. And if my team-mates can learn from me, that goes both ways: I learn a huge amount from being around them too."

While Kuc does indeed seem to be benefiting from her colleagues, she has paid them back in spades. Over the last six months, she has scored half of her team's goals – contributing four from a total of eight. "I'll permit myself to say that this has been my year as well," she said. "Scoring makes me happy, but winning makes me even happier and it doesn't matter who makes the difference. "That said, I'm aware that people will be expecting at least as much from me over the next few months. I'll do everything I can to carry on scoring."

IMAGO / Domenic Aquilina

Montenegro women™s national soccer team player Armisa Kuc during the women™s International Friendly, Länderspiel, Nationalmannschaft match between Malta and Montenegro at the Centenary Stadium, Ta™ Qali, Malta on 13 June 2021 Malta v Montenegro Women™s WFI_21

That is a promise worth believing. Since she began kicking a ball in the streets of Rozaje, Kuc has never veered from the road that led her to fulfil her dream of becoming a footballer. Not even when she had to train exclusively with boys until the age of 17, due to the slow rate of development of women's football in her region. "I had a specific goal in mind," she explained, "and nobody could have got in the way of my path. "My journey has been full of obstacles, but I was determined to dedicate my life to football. "And football has repaid me because I'm now a successful player. I just have one goal left: to help Montenegro qualify for a major tournament. I'd swap all my titles and awards just for that." She should probably hold on to them for now. After all, given her team's remarkable recent progress, that dream could be coming true sooner than expected.