Brazil: a groundbreaking achievement
August 26, 2004, will be long remembered by fans of women's football in Brazil as the day René Simoes' players came within a whisker of beating the USA in the Final of the Women's Olympic Football Tournament. The enormous interest generated by the team's success in Greece represents a huge step forward for the women's game in football-mad Brazil. A silver medal is an extremely respectable return for a team that is barely six months old, some of whose players are still without a club.
The Karaiskaki Stadium in Athens was the setting for Brazil's Herculean effort. Despite playing in front of a crowd of mainly American supporters and facing one of the veritable giants of the women's game, the brave Auriverde came within a hair's breadth of grabbing the Olympic gold. Twice the woodwork saved the USA, and were it not for a lack of composure in front of goal and some naivety in defence, the Brazilian girls could well have prevailed. "We're leaving Athens a little sad because we could have won the gold, but we know we've achieved something really important for Brazilian women's football. We deserved better luck," said Rosana after the medal ceremony.
"Now the Brazilian people will view us more affectionately. After all, the country has not won many Olympic medals in its history," the player added.
The key to disrupting the power of the USA attack lay in the pressure the Brazilians were able to exert on their midfield. No one spoiled the American game-plan better than Daniela, who was adamant that the tears she shed at the end of the game would be her last: "I feel so happy because for me this medal is gold. We lost the game because of small things, but we still stood on the podium and received a medal. That means everything to women's football in my country."
Against the tide
In a country like Brazil, which lives and breathes football, it is hard to believe that René Simoes' side were at a disadvantage when preparing for the competition, but that is very much the case. So what exactly are the problems facing the women's game in Brazil? "There are so many. We don't have a championship for a start. Also many people there believe that women should not be playing football, though we hope that our heroic achievements here can help change that mindset," said Formiga, draped in a Brazilian flag after the game.
Rosana, for her part, also agreed: "We prepared as best we could for six months in the face of some major obstacles. We had no league or anything like that, which makes our achievement even more remarkable."
Incredibly, some of the Brazilians are still without a club. One such player is Pretinha, who bounced back from injury to play a crucial role in the side, as witnessed by her goals against Sweden and the USA. "Brazil is a football-loving country, but with a lot more support for the men than the women. However, after all of this, people will begin to look at the women's game differently. When we began our preparations six months back, we believed that we could do something special. For us then, the silver medal is every bit as valuable as the gold," said the diminutive striker.
The end of an era?
When he took the reins six months ago, René Simoes could never have imagined the bonds and team spirit he would later form with squad, never mind the success they would have. This is a side that were one step away from winning a medal that not even Brazil's all-conquering men have managed. However, just as it seems that Simoes' successful collaboration with the women's side is set to flourish, the coach is sowing the seeds of doubt about his future: "I've sacrificed a huge amount in the last six months in this job, but now I have to pay my bills. The minuscule wage I was receiving was compensated by the tremendous pleasure of working with the team. Now, though, I'll almost certainly be returning to the men's game."
The news of the coach's plans brought emotional responses from the stylish silver-medal winners. "Simoes is the king. I don't have the words to describe all he's done. The coach and all his staff were the best thing that ever happened to us. What he did will always remain in our hearts," affirmed Daniela. "He's an excellent professional, and has been like a father and friend to all of us," added Pretinha.
Meanwhile, at the press conference, Simoes continued to elaborate on his assessment of the sport in Brazil. "We don't have the same culture of women's football here as they do in the USA, but things are changing, and not only in football. This new millennium is the age of sensitivity... and who is more sensitive than a woman?"
"We set ourselves a goal when we started working together. That was to be as good as the Americans, to be as focused as the Germans and to be as skilful as any Brazilian side. During that game, we came very close to achieving our goal," the coach said before finishing with this message: "If it continues down this path, Brazilian's women's football can expect a great future."