Though the chances were coming thick and fast for Brazil in their crucial Group C match against Mexico on Wednesday, the ball refused to cross the line. With just 21 minutes left in a game the Brazilians had to win after opening up with a defeat to Japan, coach Edvaldo Erlacher assessed his striking options on the bench and turned to Byanca.
Before sending her on, Erlacher gave the young forward a simple instruction: “Do a ‘lambreta’ and express yourself.” And that was exactly what the No9 did, delighting the crowd at the 8km Stadium by moving the ball from one foot to the other and flicking it up with her heel and over the head of an opponent, just one of the many dazzling tricks that make up the Brazilian's repertoire.
Erlacher’s message proved to be an inspired one as the relaxed Byanca immediately settled into her game, carrying the kind of threat she had been unable to produce in Brazil’s 5-0 loss to the Japanese, and ultimately scoring a stunning goal to give her side victory.
The “lambreta” trick was one she had perfected as a young girl with her father. After announcing at the age of nine that she wanted to switch from athletics to football, on account of having seen the great Marta in action, her father took over and began honing her skills.
Setting up a stepladder in the backyard of their home in Campo Grande, a western suburb of Rio de Janeiro, her father instructed her to perform the trick and to lift the ball higher and higher every time. As soon as she was able to flick it right over the stepladder, she was deemed ready to try it against opposing defenders.
“He watched the game and was in tears when I spoke to him on the phone afterwards, recalling the times when he used to teach me things,” Byanca told FIFA.com. “He said the ‘lambretta’ was really good and that I should keep playing with a smile on my face and not be scared to try things out, to play with joy and for the good of the team.”
She added: “It (the lambreta) was the right thing to do at that moment because there was no way of getting the ball through on the ground. I loosened up after that and so did the team.”
While it was Marta who awoke the youngster’s interest in the game, the inspiration for the mazy dribbles she would perfect at Vasco da Gama’s youth academy was provided by Brazilian futsal legend Falcao.
“I wanted to play football, but I didn’t know what to do with the ball at my feet,” she explained. “I started to watch videos of Falcao and then I’d practice the dribbles in the backyard with my father.”
Initially at least, her hard work failed to pay off, Byanca being rejected after her first trial with Vasco: “I went home in tears, but my dad said we weren’t going to give up. I got another chance two weeks later and I got selected.”
Making the difference
Byanca showed that selfsame fortitude when she was dropped after Brazil’s loss to the Japanese. Watching the Mexico game intently from the bench, she came on to make a match-winning contribution.
“It all started in the dressing room really, when Andressinha started crying during a speech when she recalled our defeat in Trinidad and Tobago. She said that she’d been waiting for this tournament for two years and didn’t want to pass up another opportunity after the disappointment of 2010,” said Byanca, taking up the story.
“She told me that I would come on and score a goal. That really got me going and made me want to play even more. I sat and watched how the defenders positioned themselves and Edvaldo said all I had to do was turn and shoot on goal.”
Though reluctant to take the plaudits for Brazil’s vital win, the fact remains that Byanca’s outrageous piece of skill and subsequent goal has put the South Americans back on track at Azerbaijan 2012.
“By the end of the Mexico match we were playing typical Brazilian football, having a go and expressing ourselves. We’ve got into the competition now and we’re in the mix,” added the ball-playing goal heroine before issuing a warning to the Japanese, their first-day conquerors.
“I have a lot of admiration for Japan, not least because of their attitude off the pitch. We bumped into them in the hotel after the game and they kept quiet. They showed us respect. But if we face them again, we’re going to go for it. It’ll be a totally different game and could be a fight for the title.”