Thu, Dec 04, 2008 - Page 18 News List

Acrobatic teen gives soccer a new twist

AFP , SANTIAGO

Brazilian soccer player Leah Fortune flips as she throws the ball in during the Under20 Women’s World Cup match between Mexico and Brazil in Temucgo, Chile, on Nov. 23.

PHOTO: AFP

They call it the o jogo bonito — the beautiful game — in Brazil and clearly the South Americans’ women are right up there with the men when it comes to an ability to show off silky soccer skills.

The talent shows through early.

Pele famously won the World Cup aged 17 and, although she hasn’t reached those stellar heights yet, another 17-year-old is coming to prominence in the women’s under-20 squad.

Leah Lynn Gabriela Fortune, born to American parents in Sao Paolo, has been making a name for herself with acrobatic throw-ins that are an assist in themselves given the havoc they create on landing in the penalty area.

Fortune, a keen gymnast who plays in defense for Team Chicago, hurls her missile throws after launching herself on the touchline with an eye-catching forward flip, a technique learned off father David.

“I don’t do it for the spectacle — it’s almost like a corner and it’s a dangerous attacking weapon,” said the teen, who moved to the US as a toddler but who played a leading role in Brazil’s run to the quarter-finals of the Under20 world championships in Chile after being offered a trial last year.

On Monday, she and her teammates succumbed in their quarter-final to Germany, but in the group phase Leah was outstanding, particularly in a 5-0 thumping of Mexico, when one of her throws directly led to a spectacular goal.

Leah said she learned her move aged just five and added: “I’ve been a football fan since I was just a couple of years old.”

Her grandparents had originally arrived in Sao Paulo to undertake Christian missionary work, but even after her parents moved to Chicago, taking their daughter out of Brazil, it proved impossible to take Brazil out of the girl and her passion for soccer grew and grew.

In 2006, under-20 Brazilian coach Jorge Luiz Barcellos found out about her, as Chicago’s Wheaton Academy had before him, and promptly brought her into the Brazilian fold — even though she does not speak Portuguese, unlike her parents, who are fluent.

“I’ve never spoken Portuguese so the first few training sessions were a little difficult — but football is a universal language,” said the bubbly blue-eyed blonde.

“When I got the call up to the Brazilian squad it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up,” she said. “These girls are phenomenal, they treat football with a passion that I’ve never experienced in the United States.”

“The way they live the game is incredible,” she told FIFA.com ahead of the loss to the Germans, who advanced to the semis with goals from Sylvie Banecki, Nathalie Bock and Nicole Banecki to leave Leah’s squad empty-handed despite her efforts.

The Germans moved on to a semi meeting with Leah’s “other homeland” — the US — today while the title-holders, having put out Japan, will meet France.

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