Mention the name Delma Goncalves and most football fans would be
scratching their heads. That is because for more than a decade now,
the Brazil midfielder has been better know as Pretinha, the name
she carries on her jersey.
At 32, she may be one of the oldest members of the Auriverde squad, yet she steadfastly refuses to entertain any talk of retirement. "The desire to keep playing is still there. Who knows? Maybe I'll play another Olympic Games, another World Cup. I'll always be available for selection and continue to work hard, but for the moment the only thing I'm concerned about is this competition," the midfielder told FIFA.com.
Born in Rio de Janeiro to a football-mad family, Pretinha has been playing the beautiful game for as long as she can remember. She turned professional in 1992 when she went to the USA in search of the playing opportunities unavailable in her homeland. There she spent a season with Washington Freedom followed by two with San Jose, two sides playing in the country's women's football league, the WUSA. The player then swapped California's sunny shores for a spell in the Land of the Rising Sun, where she wore the colours of INAC Leonessa.
Over the course of her long international career, Pretinha has never failed to make the Brazil squad for a Women's Olympic Football Tournament, and it is this competition that gave her one of her most treasured memories in the game. "I've been at four World Cups and Olympic Games. Naturally, for me the final of Athens 2004 was very special. It was a very close-fought encounter, but in the end we had to settle for silver. That said, I will always have fond memories of our semi-final against Sweden, when I scored the goal that put us into the final," the player recalled.
China 1991, Sweden 1995, USA 1999... The Canarinha star is nothing if not an expert on the FIFA Women's World Cup, which has allowed her to measure at first hand the progress of Brazilian women's football. "This is my fourth World Cup with the Verdeamarelha and of course I've noticed a progression. The team is growing with every competition. Brazil have great players and play good football, and it's getting better all the time," she said.
Despite this improvement, the only medal Pretinha has collected at this tournament was bronze in 1999. However, the gold she picked up at the 2007 Pan-American Games has bolstered the confidence of a group replete with big names. "Our aim is to win this World Cup," she said, "but nonetheless we've a lot of respect for all the other competing nations. At any rate, we feel we have what it takes to reach the final."
Brazil had little trouble getting their first three points on the board at China 2007 courtesy of a 5-0 win over New Zealand. Pretinha watched most the game from the bench until coach Jorge Barcellos sent her on for the final six minutes in place of Cristiane. "Opponents always tend to focus on marking Marta and Cristiane, which is why it is so important for us to play as a team. We're much stronger when we play that way," explained the veteran.
It is a view shared by her coach. "When teams come up against the best player in the world, it's normal for them to mark her very closely," said Barcellos. "If they give her room, her quality will always pay dividends, but if they put two or three defenders on her, that leaves lots of space for our other players. And Brazil is more than just Marta. We have a lot of very talented players."
Brazil will make their passage to the quarter-finals a
mathematical certainty if they beat the hosts this Saturday and
Denmark fail to beat New Zealand. "We know that the China game
will be very tough," said Pretinha. "They're a good
side and will also have the advantage of home support."
That support is expected to reach 50,000 inside the Wuhan Sports Center Stadium and Pretinha predicts an occasion to savour. "It's going to be a great game," she said. It certainly has all the ingredients to vindicate her prediction.