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    The Enchanting Odyssey of Brazil’s Marta- A Last Quest for World Cup Glory

    Brazilian football legend Marta Vieira da Silva's pursuit of the elusive crown at the 2023 Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

    When the Brazilian star Marta steps onto the pitch for Brazil’s Women’s World Cup opener against Panama, it will mark the culmination of her sixth and final participation in the prestigious tournament of women’s football. This remarkable achievement, coupled with her six World Player of the Year awards, is poised to solidify Marta’s position as one of the greatest female athletes ever to grace the sport. Nonetheless, amid her glittering 23-year career, a conspicuous void remains in the illustrious portfolio of Marta Vieira da Silva – the World Cup trophy.

    Regarded as “Queen Marta,” this revered icon, together with the Brazilian national team, which has historically excelled in the men’s game, has yet to secure a world championship title, a narrative they hope to rewrite in this year’s event down under.

    The significance of Marta’s influence on women’s football in Brazil cannot be understated. The sport itself was considered illegal in the country until the mid-1980s, and it was Marta who emerged as Brazil’s first women’s football superstar, playing a pivotal role in elevating the sport to newfound prominence.

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    Michelle Silva, a women’s football expert and journalist at Brazilian sport radio station Esporte Band, elucidates, “Following the ban, Marta’s importance and prestige as a global figure immensely bolstered women’s football in Brazil. Suddenly, the greatest female footballer belonged to Brazil, and this representation was monumental.”

    Amanda Viana, a pundit specializing in women’s football at Planeta Futebol Feminino, fondly recollects her awe-inspiring encounter with Marta’s talents during the Olympic final in 2004. Viana confesses, “I was in elementary school when Brazil’s women reached the Olympic final in 2004. The games were shown in the school canteen, and I’d cut class to watch them. When I saw Marta gliding past her opponents, my eyes sparkled. She was simply spectacular, untouchable.”

    However, at 37 years old, Marta now assumes a significantly different role in the Brazilian national team. Unlikely to be part of the starting lineup against Panama, the exact role she will play during this World Cup remains shrouded in uncertainty.

    “In her prime, Marta’s primary attribute was her electrifying acceleration,” explains Viana. “Over the years, she has adapted her game as she’s lost some of that pace.”

    Throughout her illustrious career, Marta had been fortunate to avoid serious injuries until 2022, when she tore her anterior cruciate ligament while playing for her club side, Orlando Pride.

    Viana remarks, “She was sidelined for an entire year. Recovering from such a challenging injury is no small feat.”

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    As Brazil prepares to face Panama, France, and Jamaica in Group F matches, discussions in the country revolve around how best to deploy Marta during the tournament. Viana believes that the perfect illustration of Marta’s current potential for the Brazilian national team was witnessed during this year’s SheBelieves Cup, an invitational-friendly tournament held annually in the United States.

    “In the group match against Japan, we struggled to find the final pass to create clear chances,” recalls Viana. “Then, when Marta was brought on, she orchestrated the winning goal.”

    The prevailing consensus among pundits is that Marta’s role during the World Cup will be that of a magician, capable of delivering the decisive pass to unlock defenses in the crucial last 30 minutes of matches.

    Should Brazil aspire to capture the 2023 World Cup, they must do so without Marta dominating the pitch for the majority of their games.

    “In the past, Brazil’s major concern was its overreliance on Marta,” states Viana. “Yet, it is now evident that we are not entirely dependent on her. We have played outstanding games without Marta on the field.”

    One such instance occurred in April when Brazil faced European champions England in the Finalissima, a one-off intercontinental playoff between the best teams in Europe and South America. A young Brazil side held their own against England for 90 minutes at Wembley, ultimately losing in a penalty shootout. Swedish coach Pia Sundhage has assembled the current Brazil squad, combining an experienced core with a talented crop of young players.

    Esteemed stalwarts like Marta, Rafaelle, Tamires, Luana, and Debinha, all over 30 years old, provide valuable experience, while the key lies with a pair of 23-year-old midfielders – Kerolin and Ary Borges – both playing in their first World Cup.

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    Brazil’s women’s team has historically faced challenges in gaining recognition domestically, with the lofty expectations set by the country’s storied men’s side proving challenging to match. The United States, the undoubted favorites in this year’s World Cup, have a well-established culture and infrastructure in women’s football that Brazil has yet to fully rival.

    Symbolically, the Brazilian women’s team has chosen to remove the five stars from its jersey, signifying the five World Cup titles of the men’s team. Viana elucidates, “They seek to script their own narrative, to claim a star of their own. Sporting the shirt with five stars tied them to a different team, from a different era, and in different competitions.”

    Official recognition for the women’s national team has come from Brazil’s federal government. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s administration has been proactive in promoting actions that enhance the representation of traditionally marginalized groups in Brazil, including women. The government announced that Brazil would have optional holidays on the days the women’s national team plays its World Cup matches – a request from Sports Minister Ana Moser, a former player for the national volleyball team herself.

    A spokesperson from Brazil’s Management Ministry explains, “The measure is optional for every employee, allowing them to arrive at work up to two hours after the final whistle of Brazil’s matches. We aim to ensure equitable treatment of women’s sports, akin to the support afforded to Brazil’s men’s World Cup games.”

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    As Brazil embarks on its Group F campaign against Panama, followed by encounters against France and Jamaica, qualification for the knockout stage is widely anticipated. The squad’s target, guided by Marta’s swan song, is to reach the semifinals. This year presents the perfect opportunity to surmount all odds and seize that elusive first title.

    Silva adds a thought-provoking remark, “If Marta retires without the World Cup triumph, then it’s a tough break for the tournament. But, we must also introspect and ask why it took Brazil so long to structure its women’s national team. Marta’s legacy cannot be burdened with the nation’s collective failure. There are lessons to be learned.”

    Marta’s journey embodies an enchanting odyssey towards a crowning moment, where a victory on the grandest stage will be etched into the annals of history, not only as a testament to her unrivaled talent but also as a transformative milestone for Brazilian women’s football. As the 2023 Women’s World Cup unfolds, the world will bear witness to the culmination of an era, as the indomitable Marta bids farewell to the world stage, forever etching her name into the pantheon of football legends.

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