Someday Leilane could be on the list that has Nadine Angerer, Hope Solo and Briana Scurry. Even if she does not join the legends, the Brazil goalkeeper would look back with fondness at this game against USA. The player from Carolina in the Brazilian state of Maranhao idolises Atletico Mineiro’s 22-year-old goalkeeper Nicole and spoke of collective effort but as she did that in the mixed zone, her teammates were waiting to make their appreciation evident. To chants of “Leilane, Leilane” they did bouncing with a player who ensured that a match USA could have won with a tennis-like scoreline ended 1-1.
“She was amazing,” USA coach Natalia Astrain said of Leilane. Minutes before, USA goalkeeper Victoria Safradin walked past, patting the Brazil goalkeeper. Asked if this was the best match of her life, Leilane beamed and said, “yes.”
Brazil started with the same 11 that beat Morocco and had a number of players struggling to make half-time. Dudinha didn’t but that was because she couldn’t recover from a tough tackle from Savannah King. Skipper and right central defender Kedima was stretchered out once but ensured coach Simone Gomez Jatoba didn’t have to make another first-half substitution. Striker Jhonson too looked to be struggling.
All this would have made USA live down the clanger that kept the game level after the first half. But in the first 12 minutes after half-time, USA had three one-on-one situations and Leilane won them all. The ever-mobile Onyeka Gamero was denied first; Amelia Villarreal was next before substitute Emeri Adames was thwarted. She was just warming up. In the 65th minute, it was Gisele Thomson, the right back, who couldn’t score because Leilane stuck out a leg. Ten minutes later, Leilane stopped Charlotte Kohler’s shot from close.
For most of the second half, Brazil were being swamped but the defence, marvellously anchored by Guta, held firm. “Today we showed the world we are strong enough to play USA,” said Leilane.
USA made four changes to the team that started against India and among those who came in was Villareal. She had scored eight goals in the CONCACAF championships including five in one game, against Puerto Rico. Twice, the girl from Lansing, Michigan, showed she could turn on a dime. Asked why she hadn’t started Villarreal in the opening game, Astrain had spoken of the squad’s strength in depth. It showed on Friday when Astrain gave Villarreal, Mia Bhuta Jordyn Bugg and Nicollete Kiorpes a start.
Kiorpes put USA ahead in the 33rd minute, stealing in to slot home a pass from Gamero who, like against India, was a handful on the right wing. The lead lasted four minutes because Safradin let slip a hopeful shot from range from Carol. It was the only shot Brazil had on target. They tried long-rangers in the second half with Aline and Carol coming close and once Guta ran the length of the field before running out of steam. But by then, Brazil had shown they were prepared to suffer for a point which, if the celebrations were any indication, must have felt like three.
“For some time in the game, we were pushed back but we recovered as the game progressed. Brazil are improving. We are good against Morocco and better today. I am happy when we go step by step,” said Jatoba.
Astrain denied that it was two points lost, saying that “the point today has put us in a good place to qualify.” She said there were no easy games in a World Cup and was happy that USA “dominated all areas of the pitch. Maybe the goals were kept for later games in the tournament.”