The leading scorer in the history of the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament with 12 goals, Brazil’s Cristiane would nevertheless happily swap that distinction for a gold medal, a prize twice denied her by the USA, in the finals at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.
Now 31, the Brazil forward is about to appear in her fourth Olympic Games, an occasion for which she has set herself a personal challenge. “Let’s see if I continue my scoring run and pull away from the goalscorers behind me, though I have to be honest and say that I don’t even know who they are or how many goals they’ve got,” she told FIFA.comas part of an exclusive interview.
“I’m very proud of that record, especially as I achieved it at a young age,” added Cristiane, who made her Olympic debut in Athens at the age of 19. “The main objective is to win the gold medal, though. Anything else will be because of that. My goals will only be useful if they help the team.”
Staged on home soil, Rio 2016 will unquestionably be the most special Games of her career. Yet with the support of the fans will also come additional pressure.
“There’s a risk, but it’s a good risk,” said the Sao Paulo-born player. “And although people say we don’t have to go and win the gold, for me, as someone who has played at other Olympics, won two silvers and come close to the gold, I think we are obliged to win it. Playing at home with the fans on our side is going to give us a boost, but the demands will also be there. Brazilians can be impatient and they only support you to a certain point. When their expectations aren’t met, they can start to get edgy,” she added with a smile.
An adidas Golden Boot winner and silver medallist in both Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, scoring five goals each time, Cristiane found the back of the net twice at London 2012, where Brazil went out in the last eight to eventual silver medallists Japan.
I made the most of my chance. That tournament changed my career.
Asked to choose her favourite from her 12 Olympic strikes, she said: “Let me think… I think the best one I’ve scored at the Games was against Germany in the 2008 semi-finals. I picked up the ball in the middle of the pitch, went past three or four of their players and scored with a low cross-shot. It was the nicest goal of my Olympic career.”
Yet the tournament that has made the biggest mark on her was Athens: “2004 was my big break. I got to work with Rene Simoes and he changed my career in a number of ways: on the pitch and in terms of discipline.
“He helped me a lot. He believed in me. He took me to the Olympics at the age of 19, when he could have easily selected players with more experience. I knew I had talent, and he gave me the chance. I got my place in the starting line-up after one of my team-mates got injured, and I made the most of my chance. It was a boost for me, and that tournament changed my career.”
*Goalscorer extraordinaire *Cristiane, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain and has just extended her contract with the French club through to 2017, knows just how important a big competition can be for young players looking to get noticed. With the current Seleçao squad packed full with fresh talent, she and her fellow veterans Marta and Formiga, who is set for her sixth Games, have been telling their younger team-mates that they need to give their all on the pitch.
“It opens doors for you as a player,” said Cristiane. “The big clubs are watching and you can pick up a good contract for a major league side. It’s a shorter competition than the World Cup but it’s more intense. We’ve got a new-look team and most of the players are going to be taking part in their first Olympics. They’re very well prepared though.”
Marking the card of the scouts who will be following the tournament closely, Cristiane picked out a few of the young Brazilians they should be keeping an eye on: “There’s Bia Zaneratto, a strong, fast attacker who strikes the ball really well. She’s improved her technique and she can win games for you. Then there’s Andressinha, who’s an attacking midfielder. She’s a very good player, very intelligent and a great passer of the ball. They have a lot to offer the team in terms of structure, and they’re ones to watch because they’re the future.”
There is no one who thinks that Cristiane is the past either. Her left foot is too good for that to be the case. “I wouldn’t be happy at just being the national team’s top scorer when I retire. I need a title too,” she warned.
The free-scoring Brazilian is anxious to set the record straight and is looking to her young team-mates to help her. “I get on to the girls and tell them that if the 2004 and 2008 teams had the resources we have now, they would have won gold,” said Cristiane, half jokingly.
“We’ve achieved a lot, but perhaps not as quickly as we would have liked. We’re still lacking in incentives, structure and resources. Perhaps winning the gold will give us the final push we need.”