Marta and Cristiane: Brazil's heart and soul
The jubilant mood in the Brazilian camp ahead of Wednesday's semi-final clash against China PR in Bangkok does not totally mask the extent to which the Auriverde youngsters suffered in their heart-stopping quarter-final against Russia on Sunday. The best and the worst of the side was on display that night as the Samba Princesses came within seconds of crashing out. Here, though, we focus on the best of Brazil, in other words the sparkling brilliance of Marta and Cristiane.
Picture the scene: It is deep in stoppage time and Russia are fighting tooth and nail to hold on to a precious 2-1 lead. Reared on the belief that "Brazil never ever give up," the South Americans fire in a last-gasp corner. Cristiane rises almost miraculously in the crowded area to head home, and Brazil are back from the brink . "Talk about last chances. It was almost impossible to shake off the Russian markers, they never let their guard down. Then right at the death, I managed to get my head on a corner and get the equaliser. We'd been really unlucky up to then. Marta had tried everything but couldn't get a sight of goal. After the equaliser, Sandrinha got two in extra-time to put us through, but believe me, it took a huge effort on our part to overcome that deficit and go on to win the game," said Cristiane.
In a quieter moment before heading off for training, the twin pillars of the Auriverde attack took time out to talk to FIFA.com and share their impressions of the experience so far and what hopefully lies ahead.
"Everyone fought right until the very end, and I also think that God had a hand in it," says Marta as she looks to the heavens with a smile. "Getting that goal at the very end gave us the strength to face extra-time and go for the win. We suffered a lot, but that's the Brazilian way. We have to go through difficult times before we achieve our goals."
"Although the team is very tired, we're thrilled to be in the semi-finals. Everyone knows it will be far from easy, but there's a lot of self-belief in the side. We'll compose ourselves ahead of the next game and do our best to win and reach the final," said the ambitious striker.
Standing in their way are the steely Chinese . The sides met earlier in the group stage of the competition with the South Americans taking all three points courtesy of another dazzling performance from the dynamic duo. "All the sides at this Championship are difficult to beat, and we're well aware of what a great team the Chinese are. We would never underestimate any side, even less so a semi-final opponent. They have already lost to us once and will be anxious not to do so again. We need to stay calm but still be fearless if we're to get a good result," says Cristiane, who scored the winning goal, also from a corner, against the Asian side.
Marta, for her part, has been a sensation so far in this championship, not just for her magical ball control and vision, but because of the manner in which she carries her side forward when they need her most. Marta is someone who exudes real character and drive. When her team-mates were beginning to flag at crucial moments in extra-time, she found the energy to keep on running and conjure up the move that gave her side victory. We asked her where that burst of energy came from.
"I thought that this move could be decisive in the match, and so it turned out to be. I saw the loose ball and although the Russian player was going for it, I said to myself 'I'm going to get there first, that ball is mine', and thank God I did." Her explanation of how she executed the move makes it sound almost routine, but anyone who saw it from the stands knows it was anything but.
Both players may be giants out on the pitch, but in the dressing room they are regular members of the squad. "As we've done this before at other major championships, we try to help those who are just starting out and give them encouragement. Playing overseas for the first time is tough for them. So it's up to us, the 'veterans', to keep their emotions in check and make them realise that they have a crucial part to play on the pitch," says Marta.
The girls feel that everyone from the goalkeeper to the last squad member is essential to the side and that the main thing is to have a strong team spirit.
"Spending all this time together has been great. We're like a family, and the girls just try to be themselves, which is important for the group. It doesn't matter if Marta does this or I do that, the only thing that matters is that we're in this together. When one person wins, everyone wins," explains Cristiane.
"It's all for one, and one for all," the pair say in unison as a parting shot before they head for training. That could just be the rallying cry they need to take them to the final.