Coach says 'Marta is still Marta' as World Cup nears

By MAURICIO SAVARESE

Associated Press

One of the best players in women's soccer history, Brazil's Marta has chased titles in every tournament with the national team since 2002.

But recent history suggests she may want to focus on simply winning games at this point.

Brazil will play in the Women's World Cup in France trusting the 33-year-old striker to forget a streak of nine consecutive defeats before the tournament. The usual optimistic tone before Brazilian players travel to a World Cup was replaced by gloomier and more cautious statements before training begins in Portugal.

Coach Vadao has a reminder for those who doubt Brazil and its best player.

"Marta is still Marta, and she could make the difference in this World Cup," he said after announcing his squad.

In February, the Orlando Pride striker said 2019 was a year to take care of her family, which made even her longtime Brazil teammates believe she would not play in France.

But then Marta changed her mind.

"She said she would give it all to Brazil while she has the strength and asked our help to be the Marta we know," veteran goalkeeper Barbara told TV Globo.

Other players also suggest it could be Marta's last World Cup but the star has not confirmed it herself. If Brazil wins the bid to host the 2023 tournament, her eventual retirement could be delayed.

Midfielder Formiga, who will play a record seventh World Cup at age 41, refuses to put so much pressure on the team's best player.

"We can't hope that she will solve everything, be a ninja on the pitch, score from corner kicks," Formiga told daily Folha de S.Paulo. "She is a different kind of player, but sometimes that made us too comfortable, we thought she would never stop."

Brazil's best showing in a Women's World Cup was in 2007, Marta's second appearance in the tournament. Then a dashing 21-year-old striker, she couldn't deliver in the final against the Germans, who won 2-0 in Shanghai to lift the trophy.

In her other three World Cups, Marta saw Brazil knocked out in the quarterfinals. The last two eliminations were particularly painful.

In 2011, when Marta was at her best, Brazil lost to the United States in a penalty shootout. Four years later in Canada, they were knocked out by Australia, a team without Brazil's soccer credentials.

"To this day, I try to understand what we miss to win that title," Marta said in an interview with the Olympic Channel. "Now, as I said, it is a new chance. God is giving me another opportunity to play a World Cup and fight for this dream. It is a dream not only for the player Marta, but also for the fan Marta who wants to see the women's soccer improve in her country."

Striker Cristiane, who has played with Marta in all her World Cups, said she will help her friend change course from the recent losing streak. She has recovered from injuries that kept her off the field since April 2018.

"It is time for a shake-up and it is the responsibility of the older players to do it. Marta knows that, too, we will leave it all on the pitch because this could be our last," Cristiane said.

Another boost for Marta in France will come from television. For the first time, Brazil's main network, TV Globo, will broadcast Women's World Cup games live. When the star striker made her debut, fans were lucky to see a rerun of the games on cable TV.

"Marta took the sport to another level in the world and in our country, too," former Brazil women's team coach Rene Simoes told reporters. "It is only fair that all Brazilians have a chance to see her magic in a World Cup that could be her last."

Brazil is in Group C with Australia, Italy, and Jamaica. The Selecao opens against Jamaica on June 9 in Grenoble.

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Updated May 24, 2019

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