Revenge is sweet as Brazil go for gold (1:0)
It was almost a year in the making but for Brazil it was well worth the wait. The Auriverde exacted the full measure of revenge on Sweden by beating them in the semi-final of the Women's Olympic Football Tournament in Patras. A second-half strike by Pretinha was enough to fire the South Americans into Thursday's final and atone for the their painful defeat at the hands of the Swedes at the FIFA Women's World Cup 2003. Waiting for them in the final will be the USA, who earlier won a tense semi-final with Germany.
The setting for the Brazilian carnival was the Pampeloponnisiako Stadium, where FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter took his place among the noisy and colourful crowd. In a close-fought game it was not until the second half that Brazil finally found a way through the disciplined Swedish midfield and the key to unlocking their defence. "Just like in a Judo contest, when two opponents are physically well matched, the winner is the one who has the best technique. That was the difference tonight between Brazil and Sweden," explained Brazil coach René Simoes after the match.
The first half was something of a stalemate after a lacklustre and nervy start. Brazil, with Marta making most of the plays, tried to work the ball through to their front players with short precise passes, while the Scandinavians attempted to release Anna Sjoestroem down the right flank and exploit the pace of Victoria Svensson.
The first to get a sniff at goal was Daniela, but her powerful shot flew just inches over the crossbar (4). Sjoestroem then had a chance minutes later, but her finishing also let her down (7). Then, in the 14th minute, came perhaps Sweden's best scoring opportunity of the game. The Brazilian defender Mónica rose to clear a dangerous cross, but her header very nearly ended in her own net. An incredulous Andreia in goal could only look on aghast as the ball whizzed tantalisingly wide.
Brazil again came close to breaking the deadlock just past the half-hour when Marta released Cristiane on the right. The tournament top scorer worked the ball onto her favoured right foot before sending a stinging shot across the goal and wide (33). René Simoes' girls were the more precise when they got within range, and again threatened to take the lead after a deftly worked one-two between who else but Marta and Cristiane. The young striker, when perhaps she could have shot herself, opted to cross for Pretinha, who failed to connect by the narrowest of margins (42).
"In the first half we played aggressively, and had Brazil under pressure in their own half. Up until the break there was nothing between the sides. In the second half though, they were definitely the better side," lamented the Swedish coach Marika Domansky Lyfors afterwards.
As the Swedish coach pointed out, the South Americans were at their best after the interval. Their deadly duo, Marta and Cristiane, continued to run at speed down the left, creating chances in the process. One such foray saw Pretinha clean through but her effort was saved superbly by Carolina Joensson (54'). Two minutes later, the no.9 had a chance to make amends after a centre by Formiga, but her header from just a few yards out was pushed wide (56').
Joensson was again called upon to save her side, this time stopping a right-foot drive from Marta (63'). At this stage in the game, it seemed more a question of when, rather than if, Brazil would score. The breakthrough, when it eventually came, began with an intelligent piece of play by Formiga, who let a ball run between her legs that fell to Pretinha. The diminutive striker dribbled the ball round Joensson before squeezing her left-foot shot in from the tightest of angles (0-1; 64').
Brazil's clear supremacy forced Marika Domanski Lyfors to make some risky changes. One was to throw on Malin Andersson as an extra attacker. By then though, it was a case of too little too late. Although Sweden spent much of the dying minutes in the Brazilian half, the result was rarely in doubt. "Brazil were the better side. That's the only explanation that I can give you. We knew they were going to be a tough opponent as we'd played them at the World Cup, but we simply couldn't execute our game plan," the Swedish coach said afterwards by way of explanation.
Simoes, meanwhile, preferred to talk about the possible repercussions that a Brazilian gold medal could have. "If we do win gold, women's football will just explode in Brazil. A lot of people there still think that women can't play this sport. Today we've shown what a beautiful game this is and why every Brazilian girl should be given the chance to play."