Brazil’s jogo bonito ends India’s pursuit of happiness
It wasn’t the score that was cruel. It was… the holidays.
India’s pursuit of happiness ended in another night of misery as they ended their FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2022 campaign with a 0-5 loss to Brazil. The overriding pre-match hope that India would get at least a solitary moment of celebration with a goal, but it didn’t happen.
What would have made it harder for the Indian team on the pitch was watching the way Brazil celebrated. Coach Simone Jatoba was absolutely thrilled when Gabi Berchon put the South Americans ahead in the 11th minute and seconds later the whole team bounced up and down.
This is exactly what India would have wanted – coach Thomas Dennerby and his support team, able to celebrate together after 8-9 months of hard work, preparation disrupted by difficult events. This team, as Dennerby repeatedly noted, has the best running stats of any team in Group A, they went on, didn’t hide, and put on a brave performance despite the quality chasm.
All the players wanted was a goal. Just a goal.
Incredibly, India had their moments – much more so than against Morocco or the United States. Brazil used a fairly high line in defense, and Neha and Anita Kumari had chances to score, break through, but in their way stood Leilane, the Brazil goalkeeper. Perhaps a reflection of what India can achieve – Leilane also comes from a humble background, but has thrived through the development of Ferroviaria – one of Brazil’s most productive clubs in women’s football.
The night, however, was all about Leilane’s teammate at Ferroviaria – Aline. The winger was head and shoulders above everyone on the pitch and capped it all off with a superb curling effort from distance, all the way into the top corner. Throughout her time on the pitch, Aline underscored the difference between the two teams, tormenting Astam Oraon, her pace and trickery blocking the India captain, so much so that Anita Kumari was forced to return in back and help her teammate.
Aline, on the other hand, has represented Brazil at U-20 level and it’s lucky that Dudinha, also a member of that U-20 team, wasn’t fit enough to feature.
Brazil’s ability to keep their composure on the ball was a reflection of their efforts – the national team may have only played nine games together before the tournament, but the whole squad enjoyed a full season with their clubs/academies respective – Ferroviaria and giants like Fluminense, Sao Paulo, SC Internacional, Corinthians.
It was a Corinthians product, Lara, who put on the shine of the evening with two incredible goals worthy of her two favorite players, Neymar and Socrates. The celebrations, now for the fifth time, never wavered, with the whole team coming together in pure, unadulterated joy. Perhaps it was because, as Simone noted in the post-match press conference, “one of India’s strengths was the defence.”
A bit of a strange thing to say after playing with the same defensive unit, but Simone was keen to point out that Brazil have made progress in every game at this World Cup. Indeed, Jhonson and Carol, two players who were instrumental in their previous games, looked calm by comparison, but such is the richness of Brazilian football that players like Rebeca and Gabi Bershon have stepped up. The South Americans made six changes to their roster but never lost a step, simply purring like the Brazilian sides of old, chaining the passes, despite India’s energy harassing them at every turn.
At the final whistle, the celebrations continued, this time with Brazilian flags. For India, there was little to celebrate in a tournament where they conceded sixteen unanswered goals in three games.
A thunderous round of applause from home support at the end is not how this team envisioned this tournament, but it was the reality of this whole endeavor. “I wish there was a new game tomorrow,” Dennerby said after the game, but for some of those players it could be the pinnacle of their football careers.
Brazil could have brought bonito to Indian shores, but for India, the beautiful game remains an elusive dream. We can’t celebrate that.