Marta: a hat trick of honours
© Foto-net

For the fifth consecutive year, Brazilian maestro Marta is back among the finalists for the FIFA Women's World Player award. And after her outstanding showing at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008, she is in with a good chance of holding on to the coveted prize she picked up at the 2006 and 2007 Galas. The gifted forward keeps is certainly well established these days among the elite of women's football, though the path to the summit of women's football has not always been easy.

Battling against the odds is something this prodigious 22-year-old has grown used to since taking her first steps in the game. Football may be a religion in her native country, but back in the days when the young Marta discovered her passion for the sport, girls were largely discouraged from playing, a standpoint shared by her family.

Determined to pursue her dream, Marta left her hometown of Dois Riachos at the age of 14 for the bright lights of Rio de Janeiro, starting out at Vasco da Gama before making the move to Sao Martins. In 2004, Europe came calling for the youngster, Marta packing her bags once more and heading for Sweden.

Aged just 18 and far away from her loved ones in a land where the language and weather were alien to her, the determined teenager sought to overcome the many obstacles she faced by showing just what she could do with a ball at her feet. When club side Umea offered her the chance she had been denied at home, she was eager to make the most of it.

And that is exactly what she did. Today, the free-scoring forward is a world star. As well as the glittering award she picked up in Zurich in 2006 and 2007, the youngster has also pocketed two Pan-American Games gold medals, a runners-up medal at China 2007, two Olympic silver medals with the Canarinhas, not to mention winning the UEFA Cup with Umea, plus four Swedish league titles and one Swedish cup.

Yet nothing has moved her more, perhaps, than the recognition she received from her compatriots at the Estadio Maracana. It was there, at the temple of Brazilian football, that the No10 left her footprints in the Hall of Fame, becoming, in the process, the very first woman to line up alongside national legends such as Pele, Garrincha, Zico, Romario and Ronaldo, to name but a few.

Such is the sheer range of gifts at her disposal, it is difficult to describe what makes Marta such a special player. A mean turn of pace combined with the maziest of dribbling skills can unhinge even the tightest of defences. And with her innate goalscoring instinct, fearsome shooting ability, unselfish passing and willingness to help team-mates out of tight spots, she has become the complete player.

A reserved character off the pitch, she is the leader of the Brazil pack on it, bubbling with energy and seemingly immune to fatigue. Her only weakness is perhaps in the air, standing as she does a mere 1.60 metres tall.

Amazing career
The rest of the world caught its first glimpse of Marta when she took part in the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship Canada 2002 at the tender age of 16. And a year later she was back in the global spotlight at the FIFA Women's World Cup USA 2003.

Seen as a promising rookie on those occasions, by the time Athens 2004 came around she was the undisputed star of the team and the foundation of their gold medal hopes - hopes that were ultimately thwarted by USA in an extremely close final. It was a role she occupied once more at the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship Thailand 2004, and although Brazil limped home in fourth place, Marta's stunning individual performances earned her the adidas Golden Ball.

The FIFA Women's World Cup 2007 seemed set to cement Marta's status at the very top of the women's game. Though she may have missed out on a winners' medal, her performance throughout the event on Chinese soil was nothing short of outstanding.

Even taking into account her penalty miss at a crucial point in the final against Germany, Marta was undoubtedly the star of the show. Her seven-goal haul earned her the adidas Golden Shoe and she also took home the adidas Golden Ball award, 51 per cent of voters choosing her as the tournament's finest player.

All those achievements were more than enough to earn Marta a second successive FIFA World Player award in December 2007, continuing the progress that had started with bronze in 2004 and silver in 2005. Yet the year just past has been relatively subdued by Marta's own exceptional standards, and the player herself admitted that the extra time defeat to USA in Beijing was even more bitter than the loss four years earlier.

Few, however, question that Marta is the player to whom most aspiring female footballers now aspire. The only question: will the brilliant Brazilian be able to extend her reign as the world's top player for a third year?