Cristiane, the angel who came off the bench
At the start of their Greek adventure, very few were predicting a key role for Cristiane
in Brazil's Olympic side. Very much a squad player, the 19-year-old only came on for the last few minutes of her side's opening game against Australia. However, one opportunity was all the player needed. Since then, her excellent form has seen her become a fixture in the team and the tournament's leading scorer into the bargain.
"This has been an incredible experience for me. It's only my first Olympics and already I'm the leading scorer," the player confessed to FIFA.com with a genuine look of surprise on her face. "I'm going through a purple patch right now, scoring at every opportunity. I was always good at finishing, but I don't normally score this many. I just hope I can add to my tally against Sweden," says the player who first took up the game as a seven-year-old on the streets of her hometown.
History will show that Cristiane started her first Olympic match on 14 August in her side's 2-0 defeat to the USA. Though the joy of participating in the Games was tainted by Brazil's defeat that night, the Juventus Atlético forward put any disappointment she had behind her in her next game when she really found her feet.
A hat-trick against Greece including a header which she describes as "the best I've ever scored" was followed by a brace against quarter-final opponents Mexico. Her five strikes make her the tournament joint top scorer with Germany's legendary striker Birgit Prinz. Not bad at all for a player who simply wanted to hold a place down in the side. "I couldn't ask for anything more than this. I'm so happy. I started out on the sub's bench, then I got my break, and now I've got a chance of picking up a gold medal."
Of course, before she can get her hands on a medal, there is the small matter of a semi-final to be negotiated. Standing in her way will be Sweden, the side that knocked Brazil out of the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2003. The two teams know each other very well from that game. "Unfortunately, we lost on that occasion, but hopefully things will work out differently this time round. We started in Greece well enough, and now we've really hit our stride. Of course, we are aware that Sweden are a very good side, and in particular Victoria Svensson, who I really like".
So why does Cristiane think things will be different this time round? "In 2003, we had spent a lot less time working together than we have now. It still hurt to lose, mind you. Now, though, we're a completely different team. We began working with the Brazilian Technical Commission in March. Since then we've spent a lot of time together and they have been really meticulous. Now we've improved tactically and technically, and we're a better football team. We want revenge."
"We've got to keep on playing the way we have been since the tournament started, moving the ball around and finding the spaces. We need to put Sweden under pressure to make sure we get ahead and make that final. That's our dearest wish."
A long way from home
Winning a gold medal is worth any amount of hard work and sacrifice for a footballer. It is something that Cristiane is aware of and is reflected in her positive attitude towards the team's training and time together. "We adapt to the challenges, but we do it gladly because what is really important is reaching our final goal. If you really want to get there, you have to make the sacrifices. But, it's not all hard work, we have a lot of fun too. We're always playing games and cracking jokes, even on the team bus. Out here, we're having a very good time.
Back at home, a long way from their hotel in Greece, her two brothers will be waiting nervously. "They are so pleased about what's happened to me. I just hope I can bring them home a gold medal. My oldest brother still can't believe it. We started playing football on the street as children, and now he has to work, while I get to play. I miss them so much and I think about them all the time," says Cristiane, a self-confessed admirer of Ronaldo. "I'm delighted to be able to do for the women's team what he's been doing for the men's. I'm the top scorer at the Olympic Games, something I'm thrilled about that. People are even beginning to recognise me."
"I had my photo taken with him once, but I didn't really get a chance to talk because he was training and had to go. I'd love to meet him again and perhaps get to talk to him. Maybe it will happen if we win and I'll get a chance to show him a photo of me with the medal," she says hopefully. With just two games between Cristiane and glory...you just never know.