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Brazil's Marta goes in search of a crown in twilight of career

AFP  |  Rio de Janeiro 

Nicknamed "Pele in a skirt" by the football great, the Brazilian star better known to her fans as "Queen" Marta will play in what could be her last women's World Cup in France.

But the chances of winning the world crown that has eluded the 33-year-old veteran and her compatriots are slim, with Brazil not tipped to lift the trophy.

Widely considered to be the best female player of all time, Marta has come close to international glory with the Selecao, making it to the World Cup final in 2007 and picking up silver medals in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

But the Brazilian captain freely admits that this year's World Cup will be challenging, at the very least, for the national team.

"It's hard to think about the title," Marta told a Swedish newspaper recently.

"At the moment the situation of the Selecao is far from ideal, it's the worst since I've been there."

The Brazilian women's side -- a mixture of young hopefuls and old-hands such as Marta, Cristiane and Formiga -- have had a tough run-up to the World Cup, losing nine times in as many friendly games.

Adding to their woes, Marta suffered a hamstring injury during the build-up to the tournament and she is not a certainty for Brazil's opening match against Jamaica on Sunday.

- Making history -


If Marta is not held in quite the same esteem as three-time World Cup champion Pele, she stands out for the number of individual awards to her name -- more than any other player, male or female.

She was elected FIFA world player of the year for the sixth time in September, topping Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who have won the men's award five times each.

Marta has much in common with Argentina's Messi -- both are small in size, have mesmerising ball skills and are both still seeking their first World Cup.

"(You say) Messi did not enter the history of football? It is not because we don't win that we don't remain in history," Marta told reporters in January.

But Marta's biggest achievement was to escape the misery of a difficult childhood in Dois Riachos in Brazil's arid northeast state of Alagoas.

A UN ambassador for gender equality, she is an inspiration for many Brazilian women who love to play football but are often stigmatized in the macho country.

- Sparkling career -


Marta Vieira Da Silva has been chasing her dreams all her life, starting off by trying to keep up with her brothers as they played.

Home life was difficult -- her parents split before she was a year old and her mother was left to fend for herself and four children.

Marta played in school leagues until the day when one coach refused to let his team compete unless she withdrew.

At that stage, a local scout brought her to Rio for try-outs with nascent women's outfits.

Aged 14 by that stage, Marta had never left her home state.

She impressed in a trial and signed for the Vasco da Gama youth team. Sissi, considered Marta's predecessor as Brazil's top female starlet, was then in the club's senior side.

Sissi remembers the first time she set eyes on Marta.

"Her technical ability and explosive pace were incomparable. Everyone is born with a gift and this is hers," Sissi told AFP.

By 2003, Marta was in Brazil's World Cup squad and scoring the first of her 117 goals with the national team.

Months later she joined Swedish club Umea, based close to the North Pole, and promptly landed the women's UEFA Cup with them.

That year she earned the first of 12 nominations as women's world player of the year, winning five straight crowns from 2006-2010.

Between spells in the United States with Los Angeles Sol and FC Gold Pride, she had a loan spell with the women's squad of Pele's old club Santos. There, under Kleiton Lima, who also had a spell in charge of the women's national side, she lifted the Libertadores.

Last year was a big one for Marta as she led her country to the Copa America Femenina title and had her feet cast in concrete at the Maracana, joining legends such as Pele, Zico and Romario who have left their permanent mark at the stadium.

Last season, back in the US, she scored 13 goals as Orlando Pride reached the NWSL play-off semi-finals.

Winning a world crown would complete her sparkling resume.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, June 08 2019. 10:05 IST