Power, grace and creative play are the hallmarks of Brazilian soccer. Perhaps this year more than any other, the women's team from Brazil can finally lay claim to that country's impressive soccer heritage.
It's not simply that Brazil has the superlative talent that is Marta. It's also that the squad comprises an impressive collection of players that would be stars on any other roster that didn't have a Marta. As such, Marta's supporting cast works as a perfect complement to her skills.
Though the 5-0 plastering of New Zealand might have been expected from a squad which managed a World Cup third place finish back in 1999, the 4-0 win over host China has really established the Brazilians as a team that has brought their best game to this competition.
"Brazil is great on any given day," said U.S. midfielder Aly Wagner. "Brazil is very talented and they're capable of great things on the field."It's true that Brazil has pulled off amazing games before. However, what stands out now is that the squad has displayed more versatility than ever, and coupled that dangerous element with a new consistency.
"They are exceptional because they have not only combined superior technical ability -- they've also got athleticism," said UCLA coach Jillian Ellis. "If you're looking for a perfect soccer player, that's it. Most of their players possess that."
Ellis was present at what would be the coming-out party of sorts for this edition of the Brazilian team. At the Pan American games, Brazil waltzed to the title in impressive fashion before the home crowd. They scored 33 goals in the tournament and conceded none. The U.S. U-20 team that Ellis led into the final versus Brazil lost 5-0."Casey Nogueira walked off the field and said, 'That's the best team I've ever played against,'" Ellis said.
The U.S. women's senior squad didn't really face what Brazil is capable of when the two teams played a friendly back in June. The U.S. won that contest, 2-0. Marta and her Swedish club teammate, Elaine, were absent and both players make a notable difference.
Like the vaunted men's teams, the one clear weakness of the Brazilians could be their defense.
"If you can get at their back line, that's probably where they're at their most vulnerable, on the back line and with their goalkeeper and their communication," Ellis said. "I'd flight the ball up on as many opportunities as I could. Their three backs stay very central. That's probably one of their vulnerabilities, and you can get them on a counter attack."
It's probably not possible for any team in the women's game to control the midfield consistently against Brazil. As fantastic as the players up top, Marta and Christiane, are, the midfielders aren't far behind in their amazing ability as two-way players.
"You almost have to counter against them, because it's such a relentless pressure that they put on you," said Ellis.The savvy veteran, Maycon, combines with a new infusion of youth into the center of the field. Renata Costa is a tough, aggressive tackler who blends tough play with a surprising finesse. Daniela Alves is an even more remarkable player. "Alves is emerging as one of their dangerous midfielders," said Ellis. "They moved her to a central position. That's a great spot for her, because she's got a heck of an outside shot and she's a crafty and creative player."
The unsung hero of this Brazilian squad may be Formiga, the withdrawn forward who quietly pulls a lot of the strings on offense.
"She plays underneath the two strikers and she gets the ball and keeps the ball and she's a worker bee," Ellis said. "She's the connection at times through the midfield. She's a strong personality for the team."
What could make Brazil more dangerous than they ever have been, however, isn't just the depth of talent the team now boasts. It's the burden the players feel now to prove their worth to their home country.
Brazil's support of women's soccer has at times been half-hearted. The full team has played little in preparation for the World Cup, due partly to the lack of financial assistance from the federation.It may be, however, that behind the appeal of Marta, this Brazilian squad has captured the imagination of their country's male soccer fans. At the Pan-Am games, with nearly 70,000 packing Maracana stadium for the final, the implied message was clear. Brazil loves a winner. Understandably, the players are more determined than ever to be victorious. "This is a great opportunity for Brazil to show their federation that they're worthy of continued support, not just sporadic support," Ellis said. New talent meshed with veteran leadership, a dynamic star, and a fervent desire for success could put Brazil over the brink. They have danced on the edge of triumph before, but now the players seemed poised and ready to take the step up to vie for the championship.
"I'm just amazed at the level of soccer that Brazil is capable of playing," said Ellis. "They're pretty freaking good."
Andrea Canales covers MLS and women's college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She also writes for soccer365.com and contributes to a blog, Sideline Views. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.