After a draw bruising and breathtaking in equal measure, it fit that only nine players fetched up for Brazil’s training session on Saturday evening deep inside a police battalion complex here. Among them was attacking midfielder Juju Harris who started the second half in the 1-1 draw against the USA.
Harris plays in the USA, the gold standard in the women’s game, for Florida United. Also in the squad of 21 is midfielder Lara Dantas, who started against USA and hence skipped the session, who represents IMG Academy in USA.
Most in the squad have a club; five including goalkeeper Leilane, adjudged player of the match on Friday, are from Sao Paulo’s Ferroviaria whose women’s team is second in the Copa Libertadores’ group stage. Four are from Internacional in Porto Allegre. Among them is defender Guta whose interceptions and blocks were as crucial as Leilane’s saves on Friday.
It is mandatory for clubs in Brazil’s top men’s division to have a woman’s team, said media officer Thiago Rabelo, “though not all of them have under-17 sides.” But with the season running from January to November, Rabelo said these players stay connected to the game most of the year.
Simone Gomez Jatoba has been in charge since 2019 and when Brazil won the 2022 South American under-17 championship, she became the first woman in the country to win an international football title as head coach.
Like Jatoba, who has been Marta and Formiga’s teammate, goalkeepers’ coach Maravilha−Marlisa Wahlbrink is her name but the Brazilian tradition of using nicknames is not restricted to the men’s team–has played two Olympics and two World Cup finals.
The squad has been on the road since September training in Girona, Spain, before reaching here a month later on October 5, hoping to better their best of making the quarter-final twice (2010, 2012) in the under-17 women’s World Cup.
They need to “work, work and work”, Leilane said when asked about Monday’s game against India. “We want more,” said Jatoba after pointing out that she was happy with how Brazil grew in the game against USA. “They were really good,” USA head coach Natalia Astrain said of Brazil.
Since the last set of games must be held simultaneously, USA and Morocco, the other teams in Group A, have moved to Goa. Their game and the India-Brazil tie will kick-off at 8pm. Chile and Nigeria, on three points after two games behind leaders Germany (6 points), who take on basement team New Zealand, have come to Bhubaneswar to ensure that Group B games kick-off at 4:30pm here and in Fatorda, Goa.
Even a loss on Monday could take Brazil (4 points) to the last eight if USA (4 points) beat Morocco (3 points), so it will have to be seen if Jatoba starts with the same 11 for the third successive game. But if Morocco win, Brazil will need at least a point because they have an inferior goal difference (-1 to +7 for USA).
After the 0-3 defeat to Morocco, India head coach Thomas Dennerby said it was “painful to leave a World Cup in the group stage.” But the Swede, who took his country to third in the 2011 women’s World Cup, accepted that for all the fight India put up, for all their fitness which, according to him, was on a par with top teams, the “technical level was a little bit lower.”
“Football is a game of skill and we have a little more to do. That’s the truth,” he said after India conceded 11 goals and scored none in two games.
So, Monday’s game will be “about our honour”, “about being confident and play a little bit more.” It will be, Dennerby said, about showing that like against Morocco, whom India had thwarted till the Doha El Madani’s 51st minute penalty, the team can fight “against a very tough opponent.” Anything else will be a bonus.