Saturday 27 June 2020, 15:00

Debinha: Live NWSL broadcast is a women’s soccer conquest

  • The NWSL 2019 finished with Debinha as its Championship MVP

  • She chats to about the North Carolina Courage’s prospects

  • Ronaldinho, becoming a complete player and the Olympics also feature

Morgan Brian, Abby Dahlkemper, Crystal Dunn, Julie Ertz, Sam Kerr, Stephanie Labbe, Jessica McDonald, Sam Mewis, Alyssa Naeher, Yuki Nagasato, Heather O’Reilly, Lynn Williams… stars galore were on duty in the climax to NWSL 2019. FIFA Women's World Cup™ winners, the goal machine The Guardian was about to rank as the number one player on the planet, and a USWNT legend playing the final match of her magnificent career.

Yet as North Carolina Courage won the NWSL Shield with the biggest victory in the history of the playoffs, the showpiece’s MVP went to a player described by her coach as “worthless when we don’t have the ball” in 2017. Now Paul Riley’s words were exceedingly eulogistic.

“Getting the first goal was important,” he said, “but what won Deb the MVP was the number of times she pressed, closed people down, won the ball back. She’s always been one of the top players in the world with the ball. Now she’s the complete player.”

The flair factory turned midfield monster has also been excelling for Brazil. She is, indeed, their seven-goal leading markswoman since Pia Sundhage assumed charge, notably bagging both in the 2-1 win over France 2019 semi-finalists England in Middlesbrough. “She can do incredible things with the ball, and she now has that American side to her game,” said the Swede.

As the NWSL returns with its Chllenge Cup, Debinha chats to about lockdown, North Carolina Courage’s prospects, her evolution as a player, her admiration for Ronaldinho and Brazil’s hopes for gold at the next Women’s Olympic Football Tournament. Debinha, how excited are you to be on the cusp of playing competitive football again?

Really excited. It’s great to be back training with the whole squad. During these three weeks of training the tension for that first match has been building more and more. Now we’re here and I can’t wait to play an official game with my team-mates again.

How did you keep yourself in shape during lockdown?

We did our physical training individually. Luckily for us here in the USA there are a lot of public pitches. So I was able to keep myself in shape physically and I did my strength training at home.

Training aside, what did you do to pass the time?

I watched series, played cards and video games. And of course I had more time to call my family and friends.

The NC Courage’s first game is against Portland Thorns. Can you tell us about the rivalry between the two teams?

This rivalry began a year before I joined the team. I see it as a healthy rivalry. And as we know, Portland is one of the top teams in the league and it’s always good to play against them at their home. I think every team in the league would agree that there’s extra motivation when you play against Portland away. The atmosphere their fans create is something else and it increases your desire to win.

North Carolina-Portland will be the first-ever women’s match to be broadcast live on national television in the USA. How important is this milestone?

I’m happy to play here and delighted to be part of this American women’s soccer conquest. Playing in this league, I see just how hard teams work to have success and get the recognition they deserve.

What do you regard as the NC Courage’s strengths?

I could say in every area of the pitch! (laughs) But I think our [biggest] differential is our midfield square, which gives freedom to our wingbacks, and also the pace we set in games.

How do you think the Courage match up against Lyon?

Well, we’ve played Lyon twice, with one win and one defeat. So I’d say we’re at the top fighting for our place.

How did it feel to be named MVP in last year’s NWSL Championship Game?

I was very pleased and honoured to have my work recognised by the league. This award gave me even more motivation for this season. I want to continue doing my best, helping my team and, who knows, maybe win this Challenge Cup.

Who have been the best free-kick takers you’ve seen, and how did you become so good at them?

I’d go with Ronaldinho Gaucho because he is my idol and I grew up watching videos of him. I always liked taking free-kicks but [in matches] I never grabbed the ball to take them. Until I asked Paul [Riley] to let me take some free-kicks after training. The same thing happened with Vadao and the Seleção. I believe that practise is the key. I’ve worked on them a lot and it has paid off.

Riley has heavily praised your improvement defensively. Can you tell us about your transition from a flair player into a complete one?

I believe playing for the Courage made me evolve in this regard. One of our team’s strengths is pressure and winning the ball back quickly. So, when I got here I realised that to play for Paul I’d have to attack and defend.

Since Pia took charge of Brazil, you’ve been on fire, scoring a lot of goals and assisting several others. What’s been the key to this?

I think it was a mixture of the season I was having with my club and the follow-on from the World Cup. There, I gained confidence and freedom on the pitch. I think that, to succeed, you need to take care of your responsibilities on the pitch, but you also have to be happy and play with freedom. It’s this that Pia has instilled in us since she took charge of the Seleção.

Where do you think Brazil stand among the best teams in the world?

Reviewing the last games, I can see that we’re on the right track. We’ve had good results against world-class teams. I think that if we continue on this path and work more on the psychological side we have the potential to be among the top three.

Do you think that, under Pia, Brazil can win gold at the next Olympics?

Without doubt. I believe Brazil needed a more modern playing style. I think we had got stuck in the mud, relying a lot on individual players and plays. With Pia’s arrival, the team has sorted itself out and is more organised. With this we have the chance to fight against the biggest national teams on an equal footing and we have individual brilliance as an extra weapon.