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Thorns re-entry: Andressinha

Brazil are out of the tournament after pushing France to their limit. What does this mean for their former wonderchild and the brightest light of their next generation?

Italy v Brazil: Group C - 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup France Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Brazil are out of the World Cup after taking France to extra time before losing 2-1 in their round of 16 matchup. After coming into this summer on a nine game losing streak, Brazil had a better tournament than most expected, beating a strong Italy team 1-0 and having their only loss in regulation coming in a wild 3-2 game against Australia. It was nonetheless an emotional tournament for Brazil, the probable final World Cup for an incredible generation of talent that first emerged in their run to the final in 2007. Marta seemed to cap her World Cup career with a speech to those would follow in her footsteps, saying, "There's not going to be a Formiga forever. There's not going to be a Marta forever. There's not going to be a Christiane. The women's game depends on you to survive".

Of course, not all of the next generation of Brazilian stars was watching at home. A handful were sitting on the bench. Much was made this tournament of their squad being the oldest at the Cup but there is talent waiting in the wings: Geyse and Ludmila made their mark felt on their World Cup debuts. The problem is that Brazil no longer appears to know what to do with the most talented young player left in their pool, the one formerly considered the successor to the icons now on their way out.

Andressinha, after starting every game for Brazil in the 2015 World Cup in Canada and every game at the 2016 Rio Olympics, only got the chance to start one game and come off the bench in the 75th minute in another. The player once hand selected as the future of Brazilian soccer by head coach Vadao is now finding it hard to make an impact on her team.

It’s easy to forget how young Andressinha is because of how many caps she has and the simple fact that she’s been central to her country’s plans for so many years. She’s by far the most experienced of her cohort, leading all same-age players in the squad in caps by 49 with 69 total at only 24 years old. In the 2015 World Cup, Andressinha played as a pure #10 as Brazil went with three in the midfield and three up top. Marta was putting in work on the right wing in that iteration of the Brazilian team: this time around, however, she’s 33 and playing as a second striker floating underneath Cristiane making things happen. The sharp-eyed among you will notice that this is the position that Andressinha was occupying four years ago.

Brazil v Korea Republic Group E - FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015
Andressinha making her World Cup debut in Brazil’s first game of the 2015 World Cup.
Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

With that in mind, you can see why she was happy to go along with the Thorns attempting to play her as a defensive midfielder last year. Even with Andressa Alves (Brazil’s best player at the start of the Cup) out for the tournament after the second game, Vadao refused to play Andressinha in one of the two wide attacking midfielders in his box formation. In the last two games of the tournament, he preferred Ludmila, despite the fact that her best game of the Cup came earlier when she replaced Formiga as a central midfielder halfway through the game against Australia. With Debinha and Andressa Alves both in the team, an argument could be made to keep Andressinha on the bench, as both players bring physical energy on the wings that isn’t easily replicated, but slotting Ludmila there in Andressa Alves’ absence made it appear as though the team was pretty tactically inflexible.

The 4-3-3 that Andressinha thrived in has, in fairness, been deployed during some poor results in Brazil’s recent past, notably a 3-1 loss to France in late 2018, and it’s become irredeemably associated with the losing streak for some Brazilian observers (never mind that Marta didn’t play in that game and Debinha came off the bench at halftime). Vadao displayed little interest in breaking from his high-pressing 4-2-2-2 box once it started getting results in France.

As a result, Andressinha had to play alongside Thaisa in a midfield two when she saw the field. It worked well against Italy, where Andressinha entered into the team after Formiga picked up a suspension for receiving yellow cards in her first two games. She created two chances in open play, completed 82% of her passes and hit the crossbar from a free kick. Despite this play, and despite France starting their game against Brazil relatively openly in midfield with a flat two of Amandine Henry and Elise Bussaglia, Vadao allowed Formiga to return to the team to start their knockout round, and sent Andressinha to the bench.

By the time Andressinha was able to return to the field in the 75th minute of that game, France had changed to three in the midfield and were increasing their pressure, and she struggled to find space outnumbered. Brazil’s best chances after that came via Debinha on the break: they nearly broke through but Griedge Mbock Bathy cleared her shot off the line before Amandine Henry got the go-ahead goal off a free kick.

With so few match minutes at the World Cup under her belt, Andressinha was in a hurry to get back to Portland after going out of the tournament on Friday. “She’s ignoring our advice for taking a day or two off,” said Mark Parsons on Monday, and surely enough a day later she turned up at practice.

It’s no surprise that Andressinha is already back in Portland. It isn’t just that she wants to squeeze in the critical minutes of playing time before Christine Sinclair returns. She needs the time on the practice field in a competitive environment. If she wants to carve out a space in the team for her country long-term, it’s going to have to be by being so good that the team has to shape itself around her. It’s a nearly impossible standard for anyone to live up to. And yet, in a national team situation where she’s set up to fail, it’s the only option.

Andressinha’s incredible field vision and slightly slower speed of play may never fit with a Brazilian squad who have turned to an emphasis on physicality in their current iteration. Her career might not be headed in the direction that she wants it to. She’s still the most talented young star in Brazil, and when Formiga, Marta and Cristiane depart, she’s the most creative offensive force left in the team.

Brazil have one last tournament with their golden generation, next year’s Olympics in Japan. It’s still not clear where Andressinha stands in the squad or what she needs to do to improve her position in the short term, but she’ll be on the plane, and she knows she needs to be ready to make an impact should her number get called.