Rafaelle: Rayssa Leal is an absolute inspiration for Brazil

28 Jul 2021
  • Rafaelle has been outstanding at Tokyo 2020

  • She discusses Brazil’s bid for a first major title

  • Pia Sundhage, Marta, Debinha and Canada are also on the menu

The Seleção know what silver tastes like. Nice, but not the gourmet dish they relish. And according to Rafaelle, they’re cooking with pretty much the same ingredients as they go in search of a first major title at this Women’s Olympic Football Tournment… with one killer spice transforming the pot: chef Pia Sundhage, who led USA to back-to-back golds. The centre-back chats to FIFA.com about her own outstanding form, the Swedish coach, Marta and Debinha, their upcoming quarter-final against Canada and drawing inspiration from a 13-year-old Olympian.

You suffered a serious injury and missed the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™… It was a really upsetting time. I was a starter, ready for the World Cup, and then my dream was shattered. But I was really pleased with what the World Cup did for women’s football in Brazil. It gave it huge visibility and helped women’s football grow a lot in Brazil. And missing the World Cup makes it extra special to be at these Olympics. How would you asses Brazil’s group stage? I think we did well. Two victories and a draw against one of the best teams in the world. We only conceded three goals – one goal per game on average is good for a tournament like this. I think Brazil are showing that we’re not just a side with great technical ability, that scores lots of goals, but that we’re tactically strong in defence and hard for other teams to break down. Pia has really improved us in this respect. Defence starts with the striker, the attacking players. This has really improved Brazil defensively. You’ve been receiving a lot of praise. How do you feel about your own performances? I’m really pleased. I think me and Barbara are the only players to have played 90 minutes in all three games. To have the confidence of Pia, the coaching staff makes me really happy, gives me great confidence. It’s great to hear the Brazilian supporters and my family supporting me. My family keep asking me to score a goal. I’m trying! But the most important thing is to prevent Brazil conceding goals – that’s my role.

What do you think of Marta’s performances? She’s creating chances, scoring goals, helping out defensively. Her fitness levels are very impressive. Just having Marta on the pitch gives us a big lift. Brazil gain so much respect because of Marta. She’s fundamental for us. And Debinha? She’s very quick, superb technically, tactically. She helps out defensively too. She’s coming off some incredible campaigns in the United States. She’s one of the best ten players in the world. Debinha and Marta are huge assets for Brazil.

What do you think are the differences between this Brazil team and the Brazil teams of past tournaments? Not a lot, but there’s one big difference. For years Brazil have had so many quality players, but now we have Pia. Pia and the coaching staff have made us much better organised, and this is what could lead us to the gold medal. What do you think of Canada? We’ve played against them a few times in recent years and it’s always a tough game. We’ve won some, lost some, drawn some. They’re an excellent team. It will be very difficult, but we know how they play and we’ll be prepared. It will be a hard-fought game and I hope we can emerge victorious. What do you think of Christine Sinclair? She is football’s symbol in Canada like Marta is football’s symbol in Brazil. She’s an outstanding player, great with her head, and has a real presence in the area. You always have to give extra attention to marking her because she’s a match-winner.

Who goes through: the Netherlands or USA? I think it’s the game everyone was hoping for. I haven’t been able to see much of the United States at this tournament because our game times were similar. But from what I’ve seen of Holland, the way they’ve been playing, the results they’ve been getting, I think they have a great chance of winning. The whole squad was fanatically cheering on Rayssa Leal… She’s an absolute inspiration for us. Not just because she’s a woman – or a girl in her case – but because she represents a sport that needs to grow a lot in Brazil, just like football. To come from Brazil and do what she did was amazing. We’re all so proud of her medal. This 13-year-old girl is an inspiration for the entire Brazilian national [football] team.

Do you think this Brazilian national team will win gold? I prefer to take things step by step. We’re focused on Canada. If we get through, we’ll focus on our semi-final opponents. It’s a really difficult competition, but we have great belief in ourselves and our work is going according to plan. We really hope we can finally win this gold medal.