Brazil strike for higher goals
Apart from the fact he has coached at a very high standard all around the world, Rene Simoes is your average Brazilian bloke. The friendly and opinionated 51-year-old never imagined pushing his three daughters to play the sport his country is most often associated with. But Simoes, less than half a year into the job of coaching the female selecao, has been totally converted and believes if Brazil can strike Olympic gold, it could help many see the light towards women's football - and women in general.
"In Brazil, lots of people think that women cannot play football and it is a major error. I have three daughters and I never gave them a ball to play with in their lives," said the honest Simoes. "What these girls are achieving is to show fathers all over our country that I was wrong - don't make the same mistake, give the girls a ball!"
Fortunately some must have done or at least their daughters disobeyed and now the women's team is on the verge of achieving something their male compatriots couldn't in almost a century of trying.
"If we win the gold medal, we will change the view of many people towards females and football," adds the coach. "My players showed once again that women can play the beautiful game."
The complete coach
It is fair to say the former Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica men's coach was more than a little bit surprised by what confronted him when taking up the post earlier in the year. Simoes has found himself having as much work to do off the pitch as on it. Improving the players' self-esteem was a major priority - while teenage sensation Marta has been attracting all the headlines during the tournament, the coach has been quick to praise her team-mates too.
As well as performing the work of a psychologist, he has acted as dentist and dietician: "They used to have two meals per day. Now they have four meals and they are still losing weight. They are learning how and what to eat with our help."
|Hamm and Marta share a moment|
"He is one in a million," praised Kelly, distraught after picking up an injury in the USA group match and having to return home. "Since he arrived we are much more motivated to win."
Of course there have been tactical changes on the field too - some technicians go so far as to call it a revolution. And the result has been the team famous for skill but little purpose, has been transformed into a compact attacking machine, destroying, with one notable exception, all before it.
Back home for the first time ever, the women are stealing the headlines - and not just because one of the players is Ronaldo's girlfriend. While the much-publicised "tickets-for-guns" match took place in Haiti, newspapers in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte were also carrying news of the women's crusade in Greece.
"It is a great achievement to win a medal - let's hope it is gold," praised men's coach Carlos Alberto Parreira. "What they are doing will not only help the women's game but write a new page in the history of Brazilian football."
But everyone loves a winner and Brazil must still overcome the mighty United States, against whom they suffered their only defeat so far, 2-0. Then the selecao, led by Marta, the 18-year-old kid heralded as the new star of the game, played the Americans off the park for 45 minutes before being muscled aside in the second half.
While U.S. coach April Heinrichs confessed her team had rarely seen so little of the ball as in the first half, Simoes was not a happy man, accusing the U.S. team of being "dirty" and "discourteous".
His girls spent their anger against hosts Greece and, in the quarters, Mexico, netting 12 goals. "Let's not speak of revenge," said Brazil's manager, whose team followed up with a slim 1-0 semi-final victory over Sweden. "What motivates us is the gold medal."
As much as Marta versus Hamm or Wambach on Thursday, the final could be strongly influenced in the dressing room and perhaps in the media.
"USA are the best," affirmed Simoes, a veteran of the kind of pre-match mind games common in men's football. "Without a shadow of doubt, their system is the most developed in the world. They have an organised set up of schools and universities and it is not a coincidence they are the top team.
"The only thing I ask for is that while the final should be just as physically competitive as our previous match, it should also be clean."
With their array of talent and breathtaking moves, Brazil have been the one side to consistently woo the crowds all over Greece during these finals.
And while many call for tighter clothes to improve the attraction of female football, should Simoes' girls ultimately stand tallest on the podium it could be feats on the field that eventually convert the masses.