There was a popular comic-book character in the 1960s by the name of Atom Ant, a helmet-wearing insect that used its formidable strength to tackle adversaries. It certainly seems a fitting analogy for the tireless and industrious Brazil captain, whose name Formiga is the Portuguese word for ant.
Miraildes Maciel Mota, as she is otherwise known, is a key member of a Brazil team emerging as one of the favourites to go all the way here at the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007. The 29-year-old is the engine in the Cararinhas' midfield, a tireless worker who is rarely in the limelight. Not only does she orchestrate many of her side's best attacking moves, she also operates adeptly in a holding role, takes a mean set-piece and goes for goal when the chance arises. All in all, the embodiment of hard work and endeavour.
So is there anything Formiga does not do well on the pitch? The player laughs at the question. "It's true I do a lot of things, but that's my job. When I can't get there, one of my team-mates will be on hand to help me out. It's a responsibility the coach has given me, and I just try to do what he expects of me."
Of course, the job of supporting the front line is a lot more satisfying when your strikers are called Marta, Cristiane or Daniela Alves. "That's very true, but they leave me to do all the marking further back," she said with a laugh. "That means I have to work twice as hard, as I not only have to keep them supplied with balls, I also have to contain the opposition and help out the defenders and goalkeeper."
Final in their sights
Brazil eased into the last eight of China 2007 after taking maximum points from their three Group D games, scoring ten goals and conceding none along the way. "We're delighted with the way we've defended. Our keeper hasn't conceded for a long time, and we know we're very solid at the back," added Formiga.
The third of these wins, against Denmark, was the most testing. Despite dominating possession throughout and creating a host of chances, the South Americans only made the breakthrough in added time. "We were satisfied with that result as it boosted our morale," said the Brazil captain. "I believe you have to fight for every win, not just those that come in the final minute. In an ideal world, we'd have all our games wrapped up by half-time. First of all we concerned ourselves with being solid at the back. Once we'd done that, we knew our chances would come, and that it was just a question of being patient."
Next up for the Auriverde are Australia, but, rather than try to analyse the Antipodeans, Formiga is concerning herself with Brazil. "We can't choose who we come up against en route to the Final. If that were the case, we'd have chosen a different team, say Argentina. We have to take on all-comers, play our game and just try to improve on some minor details. For example, we need to work on our final pass."
Determined to make history
Formiga is one of the veterans of the current squad, having broken into the senior national team back in 1995. Since then she has been ever-present at all the major tournaments, with pride of place understandably reserved for the silver medal picked up at the Olympic Football Tournament Athens 2004. For the midfielder, that achievement was not only one of the most special moments of her career but also an important breakthrough for Brazilian women's football.
"Things have changed a bit, but the directors of the big clubs and the country's FA have still to really open their doors to women players. We are overturning preconceptions, but we still have a long way to go," Formiga said, explaining her wish for a female league to be established in the country." At present, it's very difficult for players to stay match fit. Their only option is to play indoor football or organise games with their friends locally," she added. Formiga herself was forced to further her goals abroad, first trying her luck in Sweden before recently signing for USA club Jersey Sky Blue.
Winning a world title would certainly lend weight to her argument and she believes Brazil have what it takes. "It costs nothing to dream, especially for players like us, who have had to really struggle to get here. That's the objective we've set ourselves - we want to be the team that makes history for Brazil. I've been with the team for 16 years and experienced four World Cups, and I can say with certainty that this is the strongest group we've ever had and the side best equipped to reach the Final."
With such self-belief, skill and determination, you would not bet against her leading them all the way.