Brazil’s feminist footballers leaving a Games legacy

Beatriz of Brazil celebrates after scoring against Sweden during their Rio 2016 Olympic Games Women's First ...
Beatriz of Brazil celebrates after scoring against Sweden during their Rio 2016 Olympic Games Women's First Round Group E football match at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 6, 2016. VANDERLEI ALMEIDA / AFP


Brazil’s emotional journey to the semi-finals of a home Olympic Games has the potential to change the perception of women’s football in the soccer-mad country for generations, according to coach Vadao.

The Canarinha will face Sweden for the right to guarantee a medal in front of a capacity 75,000 crowd at the Maracana on Tuesday — just the second time the women’s national team have played at the iconic home of Brazilian football.

In contrast to the huge crowds the five-time world champions men attract, Brazil’s women, who have never won a major tournament, have traditionally failed to catch the public’s imagination.

“That is our main goal. We have been trying to develop the sport, football, for women,” said Vadao on the eve of the biggest day in Brazilian women’s football history.

“We don’t have the same situation as in the United States, Germany, France, Canada….we don’t teach football for girls in schools.”

However, led by five-time world player of the year Marta, Brazil’s women have captured the hearts of a nation in need of local heroes for a troubled Games and put them through an emotional rollercoaster.

Demolitions of China 3-0 and semi-final opponents Sweden 5-1 in their opening two matches, whilst Brazil’s men couldn’t even muster a goal in draws with South Africa and Iraq, saw the women and not their male counterparts for once become Brazil’s favourite team.

However, almost 60,000 enthralled spectators at Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao suffered through 120 goalless minutes against Australia in the quarter-finals before a dramatic 7-6 win on penalties, despite Marta’s miss looking to have sealed Brazil’s fate.

Vadao’s women have also filled Rio’s 60,000 Olympic stadium and the Arena de Amazonia in Manaus, nearly 3,000km from the Games’ host city, on their journey to the semis.

And he believes their success is promoting Brazil’s feminist movement in a country still dogged by severe problems with domestic violence.

“Our hope is exactly that. We’ve been to Manaus, Belo Horizonte, Rio… all the regions involved with women’s football.

“When the (federation) president asks us what women’s football needs, we can show with support, training and food they are able to do the same things.

“With the same conditions they will produce the same results as the men’s team.”

Marta’s popularity has soared so much during the Games she has outshone Barcelona star and captain of the men’s team Neymar.

Chants of “Marta is better than Neymar” have become a common occurrence, whilst one young boy’s decision to scratch Neymar’s name out on the back of his number 10 jersey and replace it with Marta and a small love heart went viral.

“Marta represents a lot for the country and for me, given her career, she really deserves the gold medal,” added Vadao.

“She is the best female Brazilian player in history by far, she has the most goals by far. It would be a fitting end to her career.”

However, Vadao believes Neymar and co’s recovery to make their own semi-final against Honduras on Wednesday is a blessing for his side.

“The girls and boys share messages and the teams live in harmony. The men have recovered so that means there is less pressure, but the pressure is still there because we have to get the gold.”

Win their semis and both sides could be back at the Maracana on Friday and Saturday respectively to deliver Brazil some much needed gold.

“It is the most famous stadium in the world. It forms part of the Brazilian culture, so for us being in the first game at the Maracana (in nine years for the women’s team) is very important.”

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