Barely seconds after the Czech referee had blown for full time, tears flowed uncontrollably down the cheeks of the Brazilian players at the Workers' Stadium in Beijing. The despair of Marta and Cristiane, who played a vital role in the Auriverde's campaign at the Games, represented the frustration of on entire team. For Jorge Barcellos' side, an entire year's work, not to mention their gold medal hopes, had just gone up in smoke thanks to Carli Lloyd's sizzling winner.
"We didn't win a silver medal tonight; we lost a gold one." The rueful words were those of losing coach Jorge Barcellos, pulling no punches at the post-match press conference. The Brazilian recognised that his players had given their all only to again finish second on the podium thanks to that wonderful Lloyd strike in extra time. The coach lamented the fact that "the USA had one chance in a game we largely dominated. Unfortunately, in football you have to take the chances you make, and we didn't do that. They did, and got a win they didn't deserve."
And the Seleção had good reason to be disillusioned. In spite of the merit that came from finishing runners-up, a gold medal could have provided the impetus for fundamental changes to the structure of Brazilian women's football. "We were very confident before this game, especially given the quality of play we'd been producing in previous matches. We thought we'd win the gold medal, which we so badly needed in order to drive change [in Brazil]. Major changes come on the back of triumphs, and we couldn't deliver one," the coach rued.
Youth the future?
Asked what lay in store for the team following this latest silver medal, Barcellos sounded uncertain. "We don't know what the future holds for international women's football in Brazil. Some of these players will be leaving the national team because of their age, so it's certain we'll need to renew the team. I'll be sitting down to speak with officials at the CBF [Brazilian FA] to analyse what happens next, but right now it's very hard to say what that will be."
The coach would seem justified in his concern. Players like captain Tania, for example, are already over 30 and it is hard to see how they will still be at their peak when the FIFA Women's World Cup Germany 2011 or the next Olympics come around. That said, in the knowledge that the team will still be able to call on the immeasurable talent of Marta, Cristiane and Co, Barcellos knows in theory what is required for Brazil to win major honours on the world stage.
"In the USA they have a professional league, and that makes a big difference. We need the biggest clubs in our country to have women's teams to bring about the necessary change. Only by investing in the grass roots will get anywhere. Hopefully that can happen, [because it has to] if we are to be among the world's top sides in the coming years." Without doubt, no one will be more anxious for this to come to pass than his crestfallen Brazilian players, now hungrier than ever for that still-elusive first title.