The resemblance is uncanny. Two slightly built women with high cheekbones, olive skin and enchantingly sparkling eyes. Both could clearly wax lyrical for hours about the passion that drives them: football. Mexican striker Maribel Dominguez and Brazilian playmaker Marta will be the two star attractions in the quarter-final of the Women's Olympic Football Tournament in Heraklion.

"Tranquilo", asserts Marta. "Relajo" concurs Dominguez, when asked to assess the ambiance within their squads just a few hours ahead of their Olympic Football Tournament quarter-final. Oozing sincerity as they do, one has to take the words of these two talented performers at face value. "We are well focused on our target. We have prepared perfectly with just one thing in mind: victory," affirms Marta in her characteristic single-minded tone.

In this all Latin American encounter, the Auriverdes are the incontestable favourites, courtesy of their record of four South American titles, two Olympic semi-finals and the bronze medal they won at the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup. But Dominguez is far from fazed by Mexico's outsider status. "It means there's less pressure on us. We're not telling ourselves that we have to win, but I think we are capable of pulling off a shock. If we play the way we did against China and Germany, I believe we can make it through to the semi-final."

Marta's demeanour reflects the quiet confidence bestowed by her side's favourites billing. She is reluctant to dwell on it though, preferring instead to adopt that familiar footballing mantra of 'one match at a time'. "For us, Mexico are just another team, no better or worse than the others. We know they won't be easy opponents and are sure to raise their game against us, so we'll see what happens on the day, and if we go through, we'll do exactly the same in the next game." This midfield schemer, who plies her trade with Umea in Sweden, finds herself and her team-mates in the somewhat novel situation for Brazilian national footballers of being an outside bet for the title. "We're not one of the hot favourites and that's the way we like it. We're getting better with every game, and our only aim is to play good football, as that what makes us feel good. The real pressure is on the United States, Germany and Sweden. Brazil aren't really being talked about, and that suits us just fine!"

 

Brazilian Marta will be one of the most dangerous attacking elements against Mexico in their quarter-final clash.
(AFP)
Timothy A. CLARY
If they are to defeat the Tricolores, Marta feels strongly that the Brazilians need to play their own game, namely with the flair that epitomises them more than any other nation. "It's the Brazilian way of playing. It's just the way we are, and we couldn't change it if we tried. Style, movement, class and rhythm, that's how we learn to play in Brazil. It's true that against the United States they made it hard for us to play our way, but we are learning more in every game."

Her rivals' trademark qualities are fully appreciated by the Mexican markswoman from Atlanta Beat. "The Brazilian team is very strong, very skilful and very fast. And they are exceptional individually too. They are a high-quality team whichever way you look at it." On an individual level too, she is fulsome in her praise of Marta: "Marta is a technically gifted player who reads the game well. She's pacy and capable of unlocking opposing defences. I believe she is their most dangerous player."

A showcase for women's football
Rather than just an Olympic quarter-final, both see this game as a heaven-sent opportunity to raise the profile of women's football in their countries, where the discipline is still in its relative infancy. "We are working to develop women's football, and the Olympic games are the perfect vehicle for this. I hope that our performances will inspire Mexican girls to take up football, either at school or in the street, thereby enabling women's football to grow in our country," Maribel elaborates.

Her vision is very much shared by Marta. "Football is everything in Brazil, but it's still something of a male preserve. Our women's football scene is less developed than in Germany, Sweden or the United States, so we want to reach the final here, make history and show the world that all Brazilian football is good, including women's."

Both players are the lynchpins of their teams, neither is frightened or spurred on by this responsibility. "I don't feel burdened by being the so-called star of the team. I play for the team, as it's the team that has made me what I am and which motivates me. When I score, it's for all 11 of us, not just myself," Dominguez emphasises. "Of course I'm happy when people call me one of the best players in the world, as all athletes aspire to be the best, but I know I have to keep working hard to improve myself further. Because that's what sport's all about: to keep pushing the envelope. Basically, what's important for me is just to have as long a career as possible," muses Marta modestly.

There is also the small matter of which player finishes tournament top scorer. Whilst not their number-one objective, that is one title coveted by both of these attack-minded players. "One or two chances have come my way and I've taken one of them, which is ok. But my game's not all about scoring; it's also about creating opportunities for others. A goal is the result of a team move, not an individual act," reasons the Brazilian midfielder. Her North American counterpart, a natural-born finisher, makes no bones about her designs upon this honorary title. "Like any striker, I dream about being top scorer. But in my heart, what matters is winning games, especially this one. Finishing as top scorer is only of secondary importance."

Emanating desire and motivation to a refreshing degree, every word uttered by these two young women reveals their love for the beautiful game. And while they both have their heads squarely on their shoulders, they still allow themselves a small flight of fancy. "We're playing for ourselves and for all Brazilians. We are a really close group, and we stick together regardless of our opponents. We play our own game and have nothing to prove to anyone," concludes Marta. "Our coach has told us that we need to play our natural game tonight, and most importantly not to think too much about victory or defeat. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain in this match," adds Dominguez, whereupon she extends a firm hand and takes her leave. For just like her Brazilian sister, she is a woman on a mission.