Ahead of tomorrow’s Lionesses fixture with Brazil at Middlesbrough’s Riverside stadium, we caught up for a chat with former Brazil under-20 international Nadima Skeff. Currently playing and coach at Danish side Odense, we had the opportunity to talk to her about her development in the game, the future for women’s football more generally and, of course, the England vs Brazil fixture.
We’re used to seeing plenty of young players in the men’s game coming over from Brazil and plying their trade in Europe – is it as common in the women’s game?
I would say in the last few years it has become more common. Ten to 15 years ago, you would only see the top players like Marta, Cristiane and Rosana playing at a European club. Now with the rise in the investment, and the progression in technology, it has all helped to make these connections between clubs, agents and players.
Norway was probably one of the first countries to strongly recruit Brazilians. Now you can find a lot of Brazilians players mainly in the south of Europe, like Portugal, Spain, and Italy.
As someone who’s travelled and played in Brazil, the USA and now Denmark, what do you make of the growth of the game more globally?
The game has been growing in the last 20 years, but after the World Cup, there was a bigger jump in this progress. We are now experiencing the best moment for women’s football. It is still not perfect, but we can already see a lot of teams investing and girls making a career out of it. Personally, I can now see people talking about it, people are watching it, and little girls are playing football just like you would see boys doing it.
And what was the impact of the World Cup in that?
People watched the World Cup. That was the impact - people actually watched it. There was a significant increase from the last World Cup, especially during the final [between USA and the Netherlands], which had an increase of 402% from the 2015 final, becoming the most-streamed women's final in history.
The USA certainly have a long history of success in the World Cup – do you think the Lionesses can catch them and overtake them to become number one in the World?
Absolutely! They are almost there. In my opinion, the only reason they lost that game was a lack of experience. I don't even know how many semi-finals the U.S. has been in World Cups and the Olympics. That scenario was normal for the American players, and England just lacked the psychological side of the game that only comes with experience.
If you look at the men's game, it took Germany two semi-finals and one final (2002, 2006, 2010) to finally win in the World Cup 2014. England already did us (the women's game) the "favour" in hiring a very knowledgeable and capable coach, a person that has experienced the game at the highest level as a player, and as a coach. Not only that, every time he talks about the team, there is so much respect for the girls and his staff. The future is very bright for England and people should watch that closely.
Moving on to the game this weekend, do you notice a big difference between the support back home for Brazil and what you experienced here in the UK for the World Cup?
Unfortunately yes. Although it took Brazil a long time to give women's football some attention, we are still the most passionate nation when it comes to football. During this World Cup, a lot of companies gave a half-day off so people could leave and watch the game (which is normal in the men's side).
I was in Liverpool during the World Cup, and through social media, I could see the majority of my friends (guys or girls) stopping their days to watch the games. I don't even think Brazil had a great performance during the World Cup, but most of the fans emphasize how hard the girls worked.
While here in Liverpool, I watched all of England's games in an empty sports bar. Perhaps I was just unlucky, but I do not think English supporters gave the team the support they deserve. As an example: I was taking my FA level 1 coaching course, and one of the classes was during one of England's games. I could not believe the indifference towards that moment. No one talked about it, no one tried to start it earlier or finish it earlier or take ten minutes so all of us could watch it together. And this was a football course!
And what should we look out for in the England v Brazil match - who are some ones to watch?
Brazil are unpredictable. While England look superb mastering points of the game like no one else, Brazil on the other hand attacks like kids playing in the backyard for fun. Though a lot of time it can look chaotic and unorganized, for other times it can be extremely hard to defend. We still have players that can change the game, players that the whole world respects like Marta and Formiga.
Formiga is one of the best technical midfielders you will ever see in football. She is 41 years old and she still can simplify the game like no one does. However, the same unpredictable way that Brazil attacks, they also defend, which is not a good thing. Brazil still lacks physical strength, maturity, and chemistry in the backline.
I am very curious to see how Pia Sundhage is managing the team. I was not able to watch the first games she had as a manager last month, and I am excited to see her strategies with the players we have. I think it is going to be a completely different team than we all watched during the World Cup. The squad is similar, but the mentality will certainly be different.
There are two players that I am a huge fan of, and I was lucky enough to play with both of them in the Uunder-20 National Team. One is Andressa Alves: she just left Barcelona to join AS Roma. In my opinion, she was the best player during the World Cup for Brazil, but unfortunately, she got injured and couldn’t play in the game against France. I think she has played for every position possible for the national team, but this weekend you will probably find her as an attacking midfielder or winger.
The other player worth watching is Debinha. She is a tiny player that manages to score with her head more than people would expect. She usually plays on the left-wing, a very explosive and creative player. She had a great performance at the World Cup, but missed a couple of very important chances that she shouldn’t have, so she will be hungry!
For England, I will be watching a couple of things. I am curious to see how productive Ellen White will be against the Brazilian centre-backs. I believe she is the type of forward that you don't see often in the women's game. I had a lot of fun watching her during the World Cup. She is the perfect example of strong number 9, hungry for goals. I am also curious to see how Nikita Paris will do this time around. Although I believe she is a great player, I do not think she had a good World Cup. I am sure some time with Lyon has already impacted her performance. We will see how.
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Thanks to PA Images for the image used in this article.