Memories of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens still give Marta a twinkle in her eye. Sixteen months ago, Brazil battled through to the final of the Olympic football tournament, only to be narrowly thwarted by USA after extra-time. "Winning the silver medal was the greatest sporting moment of my career. It was historic - the people in Brazil ran out into the streets," says the Brazilian prodigy, replaying the finest hour in her career to date.

The 19-year-old's rise to fame is something of a fairy tale. Marta started playing football at seven years of age in her small home town of just 13,000 inhabitants, Dois Riachos in northern Brazil. "I was surrounded by boisterous boys and we used to play in the street - but they didn't want to play with me," she recalls. Her mothered supported her - much to the chagrin of her less football-crazed brothers.

From Dois Riachos to Umeå
At 14 she left for Rio de Janeiro to begin her career in earnest, playing for Vasco da Gama and later São Martins. She shot to prominence at the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship Canada 2002, when she stood out above her peers though aged just 16 at the time. A classic, attack-minded number 10, she bagged a total of six goals in Canada, finishing third highest scorer.

A year later, she would inspire the senior Brazilian national team to the quarter-finals of the FIFA Women's World Cup USA 2003. In March 2004, she signed for Swedish club Umeå IF, one of the most exclusive addresses in women's football, where she was to deputise for the injured Hanna Ljungberg. She proved a worthy replacement too, leading her side to the UEFA Cup title. The move to Europe was a logical transition for Marta since Brazil lacks a professional women's league. "There are not the same opportunities to train every day," she says of her home country, which has just regional championships.

After an incredible 2004 season, 2005 has continued in a similar vein. In Sweden's Damallsvenskan, she scored 21 goal in 22 games last season, sharing the title of top scorer with Therese Lundin of Malmö FF. Along with Ljungberg, she was also one of the main instigators in guiding Umeå to their first championship in three years.

The 1.60-metre tall Marta is a pacy left-footer gifted with outstanding technique - an awesome combination which bewilders her opponents.

Asked why she chose football, she admits: "It was not a conscious decision. I just wanted to play football naturally." Besides the beautiful game, Marta also enjoyed Futsal and handball, where she played in goal. And she is no doubt as to where her exceptional technique was developed. "That comes from Futsal. I used to play tournaments with boys." 

Temperamental Marta
Sometimes, by her own admission, Marta struggles to curb her temperament: "When you play football, you always want to give your best. And when you can not do that, sometimes you can become aggressive," she concedes. One such instance was the Swedish Cup final, a game Marta would rather forget not only because her team went down 3-1 to Djurgården/Älvsjö. Launching herself into a tackle, the Brazilian came off worse with a serious eye injury which required hospital treatment.

The player now looks set to start the 2006 season with Umeå, despite speculation that she was about to join U.S. champions Indiana. And Marta has vowed to work more on her conditioning in future, even though she sometimes finds it difficult to drag herself to the gym.

Even in her free time, football is high on the agenda. Marta likes to prove that she is just as invincible on the Playstation as she is on pitch. She also enjoys chatting with friends in Brazil, wandering through Umeå or meeting her team-mates for a coffee.

Her friend and international team-mate Cristiane says. "I am a huge fan of Marta's game. She can do unbelievable things with the ball at her feet. I admire her style and her success because she works hard and has made a lot of sacrifices." Who could begrudge her if all of that hard work was rewarded with the game's greatest accolade on 19 December...?