Leah, Brazil’s not-so-secret weapon
© Foto-net

After their impressive group stage displays, the fans here in Chile know that whenever Brazil take the field, entertainment is guaranteed. Nor is it just that the Canarinhas' lethal forward line can strike fear into any defence. Here at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Chile 2008, the cheers are almost as loud when the Auriverde win a throw-in as when they score a goal, and the reason can be summed up in one word: Leah.

Every time the Team Chicago defender prepares to take a throw, the crowd rise as one in eager expectation, as she launches the ball into play after first performing a spectacular forward flip. "It's not just a trick to catch the eye, it's a very effective technique that can lead to goals," the keen gymnast tells FIFA.com in an exclusive interview.

"The ball travels a long way, so it's almost as good as a corner and makes the attack more dangerous. That said, it wouldn't be so effective if I didn't have such quality team-mates waiting to pounce in the box."

Though Leah assures us that she has never fallen over while performing this move, the level of difficulty required means that her Brazil colleagues have yet to try their hand. "It is a touch dangerous," admits the 17-year-old, who learned the skill from her father as a youngster.

This technique is not the only curious thing about Leah Lynn Gabriela Fortune, and the clue is in this not particularly Brazilian-sounding name. In fact, the blond-haired and blue-eyed youngster was born in Sao Paulo to American parents, both of whom grew up in Brazil after their own parents had come to the country as missionaries.

At the age of two Leah moved with her family to Chicago, where they still live today, and it was around 18 months ago that the player was contacted by the Brazil set-up and offered the chance of a trial. "When the Brazilian national team got in touch I thought it was an opportunity that I couldn't let pass me by," says the gifted full-back. "These girls are phenomenal, they treat football with a passion that I've never experienced in the United States. The way they live the game is incredible."

And what national anthem would she end up singing should Brazil and the USA meet? "I'm not sure," she says after a moment's hesitation. "It would be exciting and interesting, you'd best ask me again after the match!" It would also be an intriguing clash of loyalties for her school-mates back home in Chicago, who have been avidly following her progress from afar.

Language barrier
Pulling on the mythical Verdeamarela jersey has been a mental as well as a sporting challenge for Leah. Though her parents speak fluent Portuguese, their daughter knows only the basics. "I'd never spoken Portuguese before, so the first few training sessions were quite tough," admits Leah, who is a big fan of AC Milan's Brazilian star Kaka. "But at the end of the day football is a universal language. Besides, these girls have been so friendly that the language hasn't been a problem at any point. And I speak much better now."

Over and above her deadly throw-in ability, Leah is a reliable defender given license by coach Kleiton Lima to join in attacks from left-back. "I used to play further forward, so it's been a real challenge adapting to this new position. Still, the system we use gives me the freedom to push forward. Our coach is making good use of my ability."

"He's a keen student of tactics and strategies and he's able to perfectly analyse how we can adapt our game to nullify our opponents' threat," says Leah of coach Lima, before lavishing further praise on her Auriverde team-mates. "There are no Martas or Cristianes in this squad just yet, but this crop of players is one for the future. They are a fantastic group who will follow in Marta's footsteps."

"There's a very special chemistry between us out on the field," continues Leah, as the interview draws to a close. "This tournament is going to show that this squad has what it takes to be champions."