“I didn’t know I was going to be defending and running about so much,” said Brazil forward Byanca to coach Edvaldo Erlacher after the South Americans went down 5-0 to Japan in their opening game at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Azerbaijan 2012.
The skilful forward’s comment is indicative of the fact that while Brazil’s well-known flair might be enough for them carry a threat up front, they need to raise their game defensively if they are to find a way past Germany in Friday’s quarter-final.
Aware of the need for his side to play a sharper game when not in possession, Erlacher told FIFA.com: “It’s difficult to strike a balance. We have to play the way we’ve been brought up to but we also need to be strong in defence and use our heads. We have to show our Brazilian flair, skill and ability to improvise, but there’s also a need for us to start defending from the front.
“When Byanca said that to me after the first game I replied: ‘It is tiring, but then again, you didn’t do any defending.” She ran and fought hard against Mexico and New Zealand and I praised her for that, and that’s what she has to do: imagine that she’s a defender up front, though that’s not easy for girls so young.”
As he went on to say and contrary to what you might believe, it is just as hard to instill good defensive habits in young Brazilian players, who have had less exposure to the country’s flair-based footballing culture, as it is to teach them to more experienced ones.
“People learn more by actually seeing things than listening to you talk about them,” he said. “There’s still this long-held idea that strikers are just there to score goals. It’s difficult to get hold of a forward and tell them that they’ve got enough energy to do both: to attack and defend.
“There’s this big emotional factor that comes into it too. Our players are getting their first taste of tournament football at this level and there’s a lot of pressure. The players at the back know that if they make a mistake, it could spell defeat for us, so they need to be patient during games, with all the ebbing and flowing that takes place. Sometimes they get out of difficult situations really well and other times they do the simple things badly and make big mistakes.”
As painful as it might seem, the best way for him to warn his players of the dangers they face against Germany is to refer back to their emphatic defeat to Japan.
“I’ve also told them that we can't just sit there and defend. We need to do what we didn’t do against Japan. We were thrashed because we didn’t attack. We just defended, and pretty badly at that. Against the Germans we need to attack and force them to defend as well. They like to play a fast game and move the ball around. They pass well and mix their tactics up, which means you have to be focused for the whole game.”
Lessons to learn
Erlacher was a PE teacher before becoming a coach, an experience that stood him in good stead for his current occupation.
“I was a teacher before and I work with girls from different states and different cultures. That means I need to take care in what I do and weigh everything up carefully. There are times, though, when I need to make a point, tell someone off or put them under a little pressure, because that’s what they’re going to have to live with.”
Byanca is a case in point, the striker being relegated to the bench after her lacklustre display against the Japanese. She learned her lesson fast, coming on in the next game against Mexico, announcing her arrival with an audacious back-heeled flick of the ball over and opponent’s head and then scoring a stunning winner for her side.
“When I can be, I’m like a daddy to them, but when I have to be tough, I am,” says the coach. “I thought long and hard after that game and I called Byanca over and said I was dropping her. I did say, though, that if I needed her in the second half, she’d come on and that I’d have a surprise for her.”
He continued: “We needed a goal and when I told her she was coming on I said I needed her to go and play with joy in her heart, like she always does. I know her game pretty well and I had this idea that if she had the chance to do a lambreta (the aforementioned flick) straightaway, then she should go for it. It worked out too.”