It was at the last edition of the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2003 that two new Brazilian stars made their first appearance in the football firmament. Before long Marta and Cristiane had cemented starting places in the Seleção, terrorising rival defences with their sumptuous individual skills and unerring ability to read each other's minds, qualities they have showcased once more at China 2007, where both feature among the leading scorers.
The next test for the pair is a semi-final showdown with USA on Thursday in the latest instalment of what is fast becoming one of women's football's classic rivalries. And what better way for Brazil to gain revenge for losing out on the gold medal at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament in 2004 than by pipping their North American foes to a place in Sunday's final?
Marta admits there is a special rivalry at play between the sides. "There's always something special about taking on the USA," she told FIFA.com. "The final in Athens was an amazing game and we had lots of chances to win but just missed out. Luck was on their side that day but I'm confident things will go our way on Thursday and we'll come out on top."
The Brazil squad are concentrating on their own game in the
build-up to the semi-final, while trying hard not to think too much
about their opponents. "Our main concern is to rectify our
errors," explained the No10, who pointed to the defensive
errors that allowed Australia to recover a two-goal deficit during
the South Americans' 3-2 quarter-final win. "The
Australians scored twice from mistakes we made and we can't
afford to let that happen again because things like that can decide
"We were two goals up but made life difficult for ourselves with those silly mistakes. At least it's woken us up a little bit and we know we can't make those slip-ups again. We need to stay focused throughout the game." It is a view echoed by her partner-in-crime Cristiane. "I think we need to stay calm against the Americans. We failed to do that in our last game and made a couple of mistakes, and we have to be more patient out there."
The two sides have met 22 times, with Brazil winning only once (back in 1997) and drawing three times, a record the current Canarinha crop are desperate to change. With that in mind they have been studying their rivals closely, as Cristiane explained. "It's vital we pay close attention to high balls played into (Abby) Wambach, who's very tall, and we need to watch out for long shots and dead-ball situations too."
Class of 2004
"They've been playing pretty much the same way for years now," said Marta. "Some of the most important players from their (2004) Olympics team have retired now but they've maintained the same standards. American soccer seems to get stronger every year." Crucially for Brazil, however, the nucleus of their Athens 2004 team remains largely unchanged. "We had a very strong team in Athens and the core of that team is here. We've come on a bit since then though."
The FIFA Women's World Player of the Year for 2006 has an insatiable appetite for breaking records, and edged past the legendary Sissi as Brazil's all-time top scorer in the competition when she slotted home a penalty in Sunday's quarter-final. That strike took her China 2007 tally to five and her overall tournament haul to eight. "I just love scoring goals and helping the team to keep on winning. The most important aspect is teamwork, though, and the desire we are showing game after game makes me believe we can reach our objective of winning the final."
Despite her success, the bubbly, outgoing Umea striker has retained her self-effacing modesty and an ability to think about her performances. "I'm satisfied with how I've been playing," she said. "Naturally, I say to myself after some games that I could have done a little more. I tend not to dwell on it too much because maybe it just wasn't my day. I know what I can achieve, though, and I keep trying to improve in each game." Marta's desire for perfection is evident in Brazil's training sessions, each missed chance and misplaced pass being met with a howl of frustration.
Though the more reserved of the two, Cristiane, who plays for Wolfsburg in Germany, is clearly delighted with her form in China, having recorded four goals to date. "I'm happy with my performances here, especially with scoring the goal that took us into the last four. I love scoring and helping the team but I think now's the time to get our feet on the ground and stay calm for the USA game. They are a spectacular team."
While there is plenty of respect for Thursday's rivals, one word that does not feature in the front duo's vocabulary is fear. "We'll be giving it everything we've got," said Marta, determined to avenge that Athens reverse. "I'm not scared at all. We're in the right frame of mind and we're fully focused on our one and only objective - winning the trophy."