Marta unquestionably the best player in the world
Like most Brazilian stars, Marta goes by just a single moniker. Even if it wasn't a cultural convention, she would need no further introduction.
The young phenom draws comparisons to Mia Hamm in addition to her countrymen Kaká and Ronaldinho. Seeing her play, it's evident why.
With four goals in Brazil's first two World Cup games, Marta sits atop the early list of tournament scorers. Of course, putting up stellar stats is nothing new for the 21-year-old reigning FIFA Player of the Year.
So what makes Brazil's newest superstar impressive?
"Everything," said Julie Foudy, a former U.S. team captain and ESPN World Cup analyst. "She makes the game look so easy. ... I watch her and go, 'Wow, she's a class above.'"
From her scoring ability to her speed to her athleticism, few rival Marta -- not only in today's game, but in the history of women's soccer."The thing that stands out is her ability to acclerate. She can blow by people. I've not seen anyone with that ability and pace ever in the women's game. She's an out and out soccer player," said Jillian Ellis, coach of the U.S. U-20 team that lost 5-0 to Brazil and Marta at the Pan American Games back in July. "Marta is just a special, special player. The scary thing is she's just starting to hit her peak."
Her talents have been on full display in China. She led Brazil with two goals in its 5-0 rout of New Zealand Wednesday, then scored two more goals and added two assists as she powered her team past the host country on Saturday, 4-0. Marta opened up the scoring in Saturday's match by slipping the ball past the dive of Chinese goalkeeper Han Wenxia, and followed it up with a pair of assists on goals by teammate Christiane.
The latter revealed her abilities as much as the former.
Besides possessing elite scoring abilities, Marta has seemingly innate -- even extrasensory -- playmaking prowess. Her judgment is often unquestioned.
"She has vision," Foudy said. "I never really saw her look up to see Christiane was on her right side, but she recognized that [Christiane] had a much better angle to get it in."
Her teammates aren't the only ones to benefit from her playmaking abilities. As former U.S. women's national team coach and women's soccer analyst Tony DiCicco put it, Marta's playmaking skills are often overshadowed by her scoring success because "most of the time she's making plays for herself."
Marta is the complete player, the kind that elevates the game by herself, and for everyone around her. Now that she has solidified her reputation on the world stage, the focus shifts to how to stop her -- or at least slow her down.
"You've got to get a first defender and a cover defender over to deal with her, so she's not one versus one with anyone, because that's a mismatch," DiCicco said.
Even if a team can get multiple players on her, it isn't guaranteed to work -- as Marta illustrated when she got a shot through two defenders for her second goal against China. Having played against Marta and Brazil in the 2004 Olympic final, Foudy has experienced firsthand the challenge of controlling the Brazilian striker.
"If you can have cover, you can go in a little more aggressive and hope she takes a longer touch, but it's really hard," Foudy said. "The greatest goal scorers, you can contain them for 89 minutes, but then they get that one look, and they'll finish it off in the 90th minute. She has that capacity."
Keeping Marta from taking control of the ball anywhere near the goal can help wear her down as the minutes drag on, but DiCicco admits that also falls into the "not as easy as it sounds" category.
The knockout rounds should pose more of a challenge for Marta and Brazil as the level of competition rises, but no one doubts the forward has what it takes to carry Brazil to the finals -- not only in China, but for World Cups to come.
What could be even more of a concern to the opposition is the idea that Marta is just scratching the surface -- and not only when it comes to her own abilities, which are certain to continue developing.
"You hear people in Brazil who say if they'd only get behind the women's program, there are 1,000 Martas out there waiting to be found," Foudy said. "If Brazil ever really took their women's program seriously, they could just run circles around the world with the talent they could produce there."
Considering what one Marta has been able to achieve, that might just be an understatement.Maria Burns covers women's and college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She can be reached at email@example.com.