Leah and Brazil hoping to make amends
© Foto-net

Even two years on, Leah can not come to terms with Brazil's uncommonly early departure from the last FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup. "I still don't believe it happened," she said of that disappointing Chile experience. "I really thought we were going to win the tournament - we had an incredible group of players."

It was an unusual occurrence because Brazil, always formidable opponents in the women's game, have a history of doing well in this tournament. They have always been among the competing teams since the inaugural edition in 2002, and they have always advanced at least to the semi-finals. That is until 2008, when despite getting a kick in the right direction from their opening-game victory over defending champions Korea DPR, they were unable to repeat their normal success and lost to Germany in the quarter-finals. It was an experience that has made Marcos Gaspar's team doubly determined to do well at Germany 2010.

"For the three of us in this squad who played in Chile it is a motivation and then there's also seven players who went to New Zealand in 2008 (for the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup) and came home early and who have the feeling that they want to do really well here as well," added Leah.

With Alanna - whose seven goals in the South American U-20 Women’s Championship made her the leading scorer in the qualifying series - and Debora, who from midfield added five to As Canarinhas' final total of 25 goals in six games, Brazil have good reason to approach their Group B series, which starts in Bielefeld tomorrow against North Korea, in good heart.

"The 2008 squad was very experienced and that really helped us in terms of unity," added Leah who will relish the chance to take on more of a leadership role this time round. "This group has not so many big names but the positive thing is that it provides the opportunity for a new start. My goal in life is to be a leader in whatever way I can and to help the player next to me in the team as much as possible."

The blond-haired, blue-eyed full-back is one of the more unusual players to have assembled in Germany for this global festival of young talent. Firstly she will represent Brazil despite spending all but two of her 19 years in the USA, where she plays for University of Texas. And secondly she has developed a remarkable long throw, the prelude of which is a spectacular forward flip to help her launch the ball a long way into the area.

"My father who played professional soccer in Brazil and the US helped teach me how to do it. It's a weapon, and I like to use it as much as I can," she explained. "I practise every day in training because I have to keep the muscles strong and I also go into the gym to work on weights and things like that."

Leah - full name Leah Lynn Gabriela Fortune - has never played a representative game against her home country but it could feasibly happen in Germany, though not until at least the semi-final stage. "There are two girls I've grown up with who are on the US team, so if it happened it would be pretty crazy," she admitted.