SheBelieves Cup: 'Unpredictable' Brazil presents unique test for USWNT

Brazil is women's soccer's great underachiever.

Brazil hasn't won a game in the knockout round of the Women's World Cup in more than a decade and didn't win a medal five years ago when Rio de Janeiro hosted the Olympics.

But Brazil is still Brazil.

On top of that, its coach is Pia Sundhage, the former U.S. national team coach.

Sundhage, the 61-year-old Swede who took over the Brazilian women's national team program shortly after the 2019 Women's World Cup, has brought a new optimism to Brazilian women's soccer, which has suffered for years from neglect by the Brazilian federation (CBF) and indifference in the Brazilian soccer community.

With Sundhage's sway, Brazil has made some progress.

Unlike the NWSL, whose 2020 league season was never played, Brazil's Feminino Serie A-1 season -- 15-game regular season, plus three playoff rounds -- was completed in December. The Feminino Serie A-2 -- second tier -- was completed in January.

Sundhage, who could be seen scouting A-2 players last fall, organized camps for the women's national team in Granja Comary, site of the CBF's national training center, and Portugal before it played two games against Ecuador in November. She was also on hand for the re-opening of the national training center in September -- the first team to hold a camp was Brazil's U-17 women.

All levels of activity, in a pandemic year, that U.S. Soccer did not achieve.

Sunday's USA-Brazil match at the SheBelieves Cup marks the first time the USA has faced Brazil with its former head coach. Brazil has lost just once in 12 games since she took over.

U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski, for one, says he is relishing the test Brazil will pose in Orlando.

"They're so unpredictable that we're gonna have to overcome those challenges or come up with solutions in the split second," he said during Saturday's pre-game press conference. "I'm actually looking forward to see how our team [will] react."

Sundhage has recalled players from seven different countries. (Two players at Paris St. Germain, the ageless Formiga and Luna, weren't released.)

Brazil is led by two NWSL players, 34-year-old Marta, who plays in Orlando for the Pride and was just signed to a contract extension, and 29-year-old Debinha, arguably the best player in the NWSL.

Andonovski goes one step further: "I think she's one of the best players in the world."

Brazil Roster:
GOALKEEPERS (3): 1-Barbara (Avai Kindermann), 12-Aline (Granadilla Tenerife, ESP), 22-Leticia (Benfica, POR).
DEFENDERS (8): 2-Kathellen (Inter Milan, ITA), 3-Bruna (Internacional), 4-Rafaelle (Changchun Dazhong, CHN), 6-Tamires (Corinthians), 18-Camila (Palmeiras), 20-Giovanna (Barcelona, ESP), 21-Tainara (Palmeiras), 23-Jucinara (Levante, ESP).
MIDFIELDERS (7): 5-Geyse (Real Madrid, ESP), 7-Andressa (Roma, ITA), 8-Ivana (Man. United, ENG), 13-Julia (Avai Kindermann), 14-Adriana (Corinthians), 15-Chú (Palmeiras), 17-Andressinha (Corinthians).
FORWARDS (5): 9-Debinha (NC Courage), 10-Marta (Orlando Pride), 11-Cristiane (Santos), 16-Beatriz (Wuhan Xinjiyuan, CHN), 19-Ludmila (Atletico Madrid, ESP).
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