With successive fourth-place finishes in 2002 and 2004, the bronze medal in 2006 and the explosion of Marta on the world stage, the first three editions of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup were certainly fruitful for Brazil.
However, the team’s encouraging progress was not sustained in the two subsequent editions, at Chile 2008 and Germany 2010, where A Seleção failed to reach the decisive final stages, never mind contend for the title.
For a country so accustomed to footballing success, this disappointing legacy could equate to additional pressure for the current U-20 side, who are preparing to do battle at the 2012 edition in Japan in August and September. That said, team coach Caio Couto hopes to turn this blemish into something positive, insisting that the country’s failure to dazzle at this event in the past affords his current crop more room to shine.
“We’re not going to Japan compelled to make the final – if anything it’s the contrary,” the coach told FIFA.com. “We’ll be using this as an additional source of motivation. We have a quality group of girls who are focused and want a different outcome, to do something Brazil has never achieved before. They know they can go from being just another team to becoming a winning squad.”
Although the possibility of achieving this different outcome is in itself a natural incentive for the team, Couto, at the time of interview, was in the throes of putting together a motivational video to show his players before the big event. In his words, it should further help keep things “in hand”.
“As well as analysing and gathering information on your opponents, and focusing on the physical and tactical side of things, it’s important to work on the mental side too,” explained the man who has been at the U-20 helm since last December.
“We’ve gradually been getting to know each other and I’m delighted to see such a great atmosphere among the group. There are no egos and everyone wants to make history together,” he added.
Moreover, in Japan, Couto will have at his disposal a group of players with vast experience for their age. “I think that 95 per cent of our players have already competed at an U-17 or U-20 World Cup and taken part in a Pan American Games. Some, like Thais and Bia, have even been to a senior World Cup. These are girls who established themselves as internationals at an early age, so with regard to experience, I think we’re in good shape.”
In terms of tactics, while Couto prefers not to play a completely open game, he makes no effort to hide his penchant for a three-pronged attack, like the one he used with such success in guiding the country to its fifth South American title in this category earlier this year.
Indeed, at that regional championship in January and February, Brazil won all seven of their games and hit no fewer than 28 goals, with stand-out performances from the likes of Ketlen, Glaucia, Bia and, of course, Thaisinha.
With confidence so high among his attacking players, the coach is hoping his defence will make the difference in Japan. “We have players with great technical qualities in midfield and up front, which is why we’ll be making attack our priority. Curiously, though, what we’ve been working on most so far has been our defensive system,” the strategist explained.
“When they don’t have possession, we want the forwards to help close down opponents so that they’re in a position to receive more passes [when we regain possession]. They fully understand this. This is a team that plays well without the ball, that works hard and moves forward with real quality.”
Feet on the ground
With a good atmosphere, plenty of motivation and confidence, and a manageable amount of pressure, all the elements seem to be in place for a good campaign in Japan. However, the coaching staff know that, in practice, the challenge is still a major one.
As well as very tough group-stage opponents in Nigeria, Italy and Korea Republic, powerhouses like Germany, USA and Japan could well be lying in wait should A Seleção progress into the knockout phases.
“We’re in a complicated group with the runners-up from the last World Cup in the form of Nigeria, the South Koreans, who are defending U-17 world champions, and Italy, who, like Brazil, have a lot of history,” warned Couto as our interview came to close. “For all that, we’ll go there without pressure, and with our dreams and objectives in place. Every game will be like a final for us, starting with Italy.”