Player to Watch: Cristiane

Despite her relatively tender years, 22-year-old Cristiane Rozeira de Souza Silva has already accumulated a wealth of international experience to the envy of many more senior players. Defenders preparing to face the Canarinha striker at the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007 be warned: lose sight of Cristiane for a second, and your team will pay.

The livewire front-runner made her debut for Brazil's U-19 side at just 15 years of age, and has not looked back since. An integral part of the Auriverde line-up that achieved respectable fourth-placed finishes at the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championships at Canada 2002 and Thailand 2004, the sprightly left-footer also made the squad for the FIFA Women's World Cup USA 2003, appearing as a substitute in all four of her team's matches.

The highlight of her international career thus far came at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament at Athens 2004, where Brazil went all the way to the final only to lose to traditional superpowers USA. While hugely disappointed to fall at the final hurdle, time - along with an Olympic silver medal - have proven excellent healers.

A vital factor in her success has been the partnership with the outrageously talented Marta, the pair sharing a near-telepathic on-the-field understanding born of great mutual respect and friendship. As Cristiane herself says: "When one of us receives the ball we already know exactly where we're going to pass it, because we instinctively know where the other is going to be making a run."

Conquering Europe
Making your way as a footballer in Brazil is no easy task, however, especially as a young girl. Even though Cristiane was fortunate enough to count on the support of her family, the standard of women's football in her homeland was in no way demanding enough for a player of her ability.

Having outgrown the Sao Bernardo and Juventus teams in her native state of Sao Paulo, the goal-getter soon followed in Marta's footsteps and headed to European shores. In February 2005, she joined German outfit Turbine Potsdam, whom she helped win the Bundesliga title.

Off the pitch, though, adapting to life far away from her loved ones and enduring the intense cold of German winter would provide greater obstacles than any opposing defender. Fortunately for the Osasco-born youngster, plenty of cooking practice and a number of handily-placed Brazilian restaurants helped alleviate withdrawal symptoms for one particular staple of Brazilian life, feijao com arroz (beans and rice).

Showing remarkable ingenuity in her battle with the chilly northern European conditions, Cristiane was quick to purchase layers of thermal clothing to wear under her kit during training. She even resorted to putting her boots in the sauna before taking the field, thus keeping her feet warm for at least a few more minutes.

In July 2006 she switched allegiances to VFS Wolfsburg, where her adaptation to the Bundesliga has continued apace. With one game still to play this season, Cristiane has notched a respectable seven goals, which may not match her scoring rate in national team colours but is impressive enough given German football's direct and fast-paced attacking style. "Sometimes it's a bit of a struggle, but I have to do my best to fit in with the way they play," admits Cristiane. "That said, sometimes I can't help but bring some typically Brazilian touches to the game."

Pedigree performances
It is touches like these, allied to her temperament, verve and strong personality that have earned her the admiration of the German supporters. Bernd Schroeder, her coach at former club Turbine, believes she brought more than just skill to the team: "Another reason (behind the signing) was to try and attract more fans with an exotic foreign star, and it certainly worked."

A self-confessed fan of her compatriot Ronaldo's playing style, Cristiane shares a number of similarities with O Fenomeno, including physical strength, acceleration, the ability to shoot from any angle and cool finishing in front of goal.

All these attributes and more were in evidence at Athens 2004 when she finished the event joint top-scorer with five goals alongside German superstar Birgit Prinz. At November 2006's South American qualifying tournament in the Argentinian city of Mar de Plata, she did even better, scoring a staggering 12 goals in just seven appearances. Nonetheless, even her goal-laden left foot was not enough to prevent a final defeat against the Albicelestes.

Having safely qualified for China 2007 despite that painful setback, Brazil are determined to set the record straight come September's showpiece event. With Cristiane firing on all cylinders, they are more than capable of doing just that.