Barcelos believes it's Brazil's title
As Brazil prepare to go head-to-head with a powerful Korea DPR side for a place in the final of Russia 2006, FIFA.com was given an insider's view into the Verdeamarela camp from coach Jorge Barcelos.
The South Americans disposed of Nigeria in the quarter-finals thanks to an injury-time header from Adriane, the goal sealing a 2-1 win and ensuring the Brazilian girls would not have to endure the physical exhaustion and nerve-racking tension of extra-time and, potentially, penalties.
"We knew that it would be a very difficult game because they are a very strong team and have a great tactical set-up," reflected Barcelos.
The Canarinhas had made it through to the group phase on the back of two goalless draws (against Russia and New Zealand) and a 2-0 success over Australia , leaving many surprised by their lack of firepower, especially in a tournament that has already seen 100 goals scored. Barcelos, however, remains relatively unconcerned: "It always worries you a little because goals are what make the difference in football. I'd love to win every game by three or four goals, but the teams we play against line up as many as eight players behind the ball, and just two up front.
"Teams that set out to score bags of goals end up losing. In any given game, you first look to avoid conceding a goal, then you can start worrying about scoring."
Filling the Marta-shaped void
Having finished in fourth place at Thailand 2004 , Brazil are aiming to go one better this time around.
"We are now fully focused on getting past the semi-finals," Barcelos insisted, his determination clear. "We have a great deal of respect for all our opponents but I believe that Brazil are going to win the title."
One thing is for sure: his team's next opponents are not to be taken lightly. The runners-up in the Asian qualifying tournament were a relative unknown quantity going into Russia 2006, but having beaten reigning champions Germany and wiped the floor with Mexico and Switzerland in the group stages, then squeezed past France in the quarters, the Koreans are no serious contenders for the crown.
"Korea have shown that they are one of the superpowers of women's football," said Barcelos emphatically. "They are a very strong and quick side, with extremely gifted players who stick very rigidly to their tactical system. We know just how difficult the game's going to be but we believe we're going to win."
The Brazilians are at full strength, with no players missing through injury or suspension, and the Auriverde girls have the luxury of three days to rest weary limbs and prepare for the semi-final. "It's a very tight-knit group and they are fully aware of the importance of the next game," said the coach.
"They're feeling a touch nervous as you'd expect, but they are taking it in their stride. We're doing our best to ensure that they keep calm over the next few days until the moment arrives when we get to the dressing room at the ground and we can unleash that nervous tension before going out onto the pitch. The players are giving everything every day in training and are determined to achieve their goals. They don't want to let this opportunity slip away."
After months of living and training together , the atmosphere in the Brazil camp seems more appropriate to a big family than a football team. Their coach certainly feels that this togetherness is one of the secrets of the side's success. "Now I've got 21 more daughters to go with the two I've got at home!" joked Barcelos. "We've only got a few more days left together and we need to live them to the full. The moment that we eventually go our separate ways will have the bitter taste of defeat."
Inevitably the conversation turns to the absence of one of the biggest stars of the women's game, the mercurial Marta . "The fans are the ones who've suffered the most," observed her coach, "along with women's football in general, the tournament, and Marta herself. It's like the World Cup without Ronaldinho or Zinedine Zidane... it's just not the same. She's really upset at not having been able to represent her country."
"She's a really important player but we need to focus on the players that are here and who have to battle on without her, and for her. The girls are working really hard to fill the massive gap that she has left in the side."
For the good of the game
In a country as vast as Brazil, discovering and coaching talented young girls is no easy task.
While the Brazilian people live and breathe the beautiful game, the culture is such that the overriding feeling remains that football is a male sport.
"Things have moved on a lot in Brazil over the last few years, but there is still a lot of work to do," Barcelos admitted. "There is very little money invested in the game and football clubs generally don't bother to set up a women's team.
"The vast majority of the state federations don't even organise competitions, which leaves it down to the CBF to take responsibility for everything to do with selection and coaching.
"Winning this title would be a big help in changing that mindset, not just in our country but throughout South America. It also might encourage companies to invest in women's football, because there is money to be made. In fact, female supporters are going to watch games in ever-increasing numbers, while the likes of Mia Hamm, Birgit Prinz and Marta could be great ambassadors for the sport."