Brazil's World Cup debut is 'just the beginning'

7 months ago 13
Maria GrafBrazil captain Maria Graf is a personal trainer away from rugby
Date: Tuesday, 1 November Kick-off: 14:30 GMT Venue: Headingley Stadium, Leeds
Coverage: Watch live on BBC Two, BBC iPlayer and online; Live commentary on Radio 5 Sports Extra; Live text and highlights on BBC Sport website & app

Brazil will be the first South American nation to participate in a World Cup when they face England in only their third international match on Tuesday.

The Amazonas lost narrowly to France in their only warm-up match on Thursday, having started at international level with a 48-0 win over Argentina in 2018.

"We are so proud because we are making history for Brazil and South America," captain Maria Graf said.

Coach Paul Grundy added: "We've come to play and we've come to win."

He continued: "We haven't played a lot but the girls learn at an extremely rapid rate."

Samba stars of the future?

Despite their inexperience at international level, Brazil were selected as one of the eight teams to compete at the Rugby League World Cup based on infrastructure, plans for growth and potential impact at the delayed 2021 tournament.

With their national team only formed in 2018, the talent pool for selection is only around 150 players deep and six of their 23-woman squad only took up the sport in the last 12 months.

The new-look squad contains players who have previously competed in football, basketball and handball.

Although nine of the squad hail from the full-time Melina club, Ana Loschi de Quadros was the only player with experience of playing overseas before their loss against France.

In contrast to the Women's Super League competition in England and the full-time NRLW in Australia, domestic teams in Brazil face 1,000-mile-plus bus journeys to fulfil fixtures, while a number of players including captain Graf, a personal trainer in Florianopolis, travel for more than 24 hours just to meet in Sao Paulo.

Yet despite those constraints, Grundy believes his squad has the talent and samba flair to cause some surprises.

"Some of them will play in the NRLW easily," Grundy added.

"A couple of them are probably well up to it and they constantly talk about living in England and Australia in places where they can develop their rugby league and they are in constant competition.

"At the moment they play when they can. To give you an idea, it took one team 27 hours to bus from their town to play a competition game.

"Flying a team is just not something you can afford. We have spoken to the girls about playing in the NRLW and there are girls I think that are up to it."

'We are making history'

Graf is expected to captain Brazil when they open the tournament against hosts England in Leeds.

The game will be shown live on BBC Two and there could be as many as 15,000 spectators at Headingley.

"I never imagined this happening," she said. "I hope I can enjoy this amazing experience. I really want to be an inspiration for the next generation.

"I really want visibility so it helps to bring more sponsors and support because it is only just beginning in Brazil.

"Maybe our players will be nervous but we have good leaders in the team. When we are on the field and singing our anthem it will be really special. Once it kicks off, it is just a game."

Grundy added: "I don't think any of these girls have played a match in front of more than 100 people.

"How do you prepare these girls for an occasion like that? It's been difficult, but I guess you've got to rip the Band-Aid off.

"These girls tend to take stuff on, and I think the best way is just to go out there and attack it."

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