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Soccer: Forsyth County resident Sabo makes most of abbreviated international soccer debut
Savannah Sabo
Savannah Sabo played in two matches with the Croatian women’s youth national team before the 2020 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup qualifying rounds were cut short due to the coronavirus. - photo by David Roberts

Savannah Sabo wasn't ready to come home just yet. 

She had a taste of international competition, and she more than held her own. 

Sabo, who lives in Forsyth County but attends IMG Academy in Florida, earned a spot as a goalkeeper on Croatia's women's national team, which was competing for a spot in the 2020 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup.

Sabo played in one match with Croatia's U-17 team before getting called up to the U-19 team, where she performed well. Everything seemed to be clicking for Sabo.

Then the coronavirus pandemic put the soccer world on hold. Suddenly, the tournament’s qualifying round was canceled. 

"I can't really do anything about it," Sabo said. "It's just natural causes. There's nothing I can do. We're just hoping for the future that we're going to be able to get that opportunity again. That's all I'm hoping for."

Sabo, who qualified for dual-citizenship through her father's side of the family, played 45 minutes against a local U-17 team in her first match, but her performance against Bosnia for Croatia's U-19 squad was one to remember. 

Not knowing if she'd even get in the game, Sabo started in goal and played the entire match, which ended in a 2-2 draw.

"That was a good game. I'm proud of myself for that one," Sabo said. "Eventually, I was just like, 'Can this please be over?' because they just kept coming at me. I got beat up so bad. I had, like, a massive bruise on my arm and my knee was all bruised."

Sabo counted more than a dozen saves, and the goals scored against her were top-class.

Savannah Sabo
Savannah Sabo makes a save during practice with the Croatian U-17 women’s national team. Photo Submitted
The first was a header to the back post, then Bosnia scored again off a rebounded ball that the defense couldn't clear.

"Of course it's nervous, because it's your international debut and you're just trying to play well," Sabo said. "I mean, I would have liked it if I didn't give up two goals, but the two goals were just (hard to defend)."

Sabo had two days of training on the schedule before a match against the Netherlands was set to take place last week.

She made it to the Netherlands, only to catch a flight back to the United States.

"That was lucky, because of the travel ban and that would have gotten all confusing and the quarantine stuff," Sabo said. "I got lucky. We got on the second-to-last flight out of Amsterdam."

She made it back to the country March 13, one day before President Donald Trump announced a travel ban on 26 European countries, including the Netherlands.

"After they canceled it, everyone was just kind of like, 'What do we do?' They put their lives into it," Sabo said. "They eat, breathe, sleep soccer. When they canceled it, they're just like, 'What's going on?' because they don't know what to do without it."

Sabo is currently on spring break from school and is finding ways to train despite self-quarantining. 

"I'm trying to get out sometime this week," Sabo said. "I've got homework to do, because of course I was gone for almost a month. So, I've been doing homework the past two days. I've been trying to get out, running around a little bit."

Sabo saw 11 countries in three weeks, including France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Poland, Bosnia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia

She hopes to return to international competition with Croatia's national team, though nothing is certain right now. 

Still, despite playing for a country she had never visited, Sabo felt a connection with the team that will stick with her for a while.

"They're all really cool. They're really nice people," Sabo said. "Most of them speak English, which I was right about. They were really cool in accepting me and bringing me in and getting me used to stuff."