Brazil coach Kleiton Lima knows he is facing a tough challenge at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Chile 2008, with his predecessor Jorge Barcellos having led the Seleção to bronze at the previous edition in Russia two years ago. That said, Lima, who took over the coaching duties in January, has good reason to be optimistic.
He has managed to assemble a spectacular side, as evidenced by their domination in the regional qualifiers for Chile 2008, and has lofty aspirations heading into the big event. "This World Cup will be a very competitive and difficult one," Lima told FIFA.com. "Our group is very even, but Brazil always give everything to make the final.
"It's very important, therefore, that we leave here as one of the top sides so as to consolidate all the work being done back home for the development of the sport. Moreover, we want to remain among the world's top teams in women's football," added the Brazilian who played professional football in the USA, where he first got involved with women's football back in 1994.
"I was impressed by how big the women's game was in the USA. When I returned to Brazil in 1995, I set up an academy for women's football in Itanhaem (a municipality in Sao Paulo state), and two years later Santos asked me to be assistant coach of their women's team. In 1999 I became head coach there and over the next eight years we won a host of state, regional and national titles. That lead to my appointment as national U-20 coach in January of this year.
With his talented young side, Lima is preparing for an ambitious professional and personal challenge in neighbouring Chile. "We have high expectations. The South American U-20 Championship was a very significant triumph, but not unusual for Brazil, as we're traditionally a big team in the region," he continued.
"Now we want to show our potential in every game so as to bring home the country's first world title (in women's football). For me this is a huge challenge but, given my experience in the women's game, I feel qualified to lead these golden girls in their bid to be world champions."
The FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup was the competition in which many stars of Brazil's current senior team, such as Cristiane, Barbara, Daniela Alves and Marta, first came to international prominence. It is inevitable, then, that Lima's charges will be under scrutiny at Chile 2008, with a view to identifying players with the potential to one day inherit that rich legacy.
"All footballers have their merits and this generation of players will demonstrate theirs," said Lima. "This group has what it takes to have a great tournament but it's unfair to compare them to those stars. .
"Regardless of Brazil's success at previous editions, any player pulling on the national team jersey demands the utmost of herself. Being in this side is a big responsibility as your goal is always to be among the best in the world. We're preparing really well because we know the pressure that comes with representing Brazil," he added.
One thing the man at the helm is reluctant to do, however, is single out a group leader. "We have some very young players who stand out, as well as several veterans who have appeared in World Cups and Olympic Games, like Erika, who will be competing at her third U-20 World Cup, and Francielle."
Though missing the likes of goalkeeper Barbara, who asked not to be called up following her move to Italy, and striker Fabiana, who is out injured, the coach insists his side are strong enough to deal with a tough group featuring Norway, Mexico and Korea DPR. "They represent three schools of football, all different but powerful in their own way," he explained.
"Mexico's style is the most similar to that of South Americans', while Norway have a technique and strength that is hard to compare. The North Koreans are very good markers and quick as well. I think it's the hardest section, as all the teams are capable of making the next phase."
For now, preparations are going according to plan, with the side enjoying a 3-0 friendly win over the host nation not long after arriving in Chile. Encouraging as that victory was, the focus is firmly on their opening game on 20 November, when they will need to hit the ground running against reigning world champions Korea DPR.