Women's Football

2003: Magical Marta ups the tempo in the States

Marta's first taste of senior action on a truly international scale came at the FIFA Women's World Cup USA 2003.  With a last-minute change of venues due to an outbreak of SARS in China, Marta - still just 17 - displayed all of her outstanding abilities in North America rather than the Far East. 

The change seemed to have no negative effect on the burgeoning starlet, and it took only 14 minutes of the first match against hard-running Korea Republic for the number 10 (filling in during injured Sissi's absence) to grab her first goal on the biggest stage in the women's game.  Saying something of the team's confidence in the youngster, she was designated penalty taker and stepped up to coolly slot home from the spot without even a quarter-hour gone on the clock.  It was amazingly her 16th goal in just six caps for the senior Brazilian team - an astounding average of 2.5 goals per game. 

With Marta acting as playmaker and provider supreme, long-legged poacher Katia went on to grab a brace of her own in a simple 3-0 win .  It was a wonderful start to Marta's senior days, and everyone in attendance and watching on TV surely took sharp notice. Marta was named player of the match, and for good reason.

"Even though we won…I want to have a better game against Norway," the humble youngster told reporters after the match.  

And after sometimes flattering to deceive on the world stage in past tournaments, under Marta's cool care, the Brazilians looked to have finally found some of the form that made their men the most famous side on Planet Football.  Against Norway, FIFA Women's World Cup Champions in 1995, Marta dictated the rhythm and led the South Americans to a 4-1 rout at RFK   Stadium in Washington DC. 

A hit with the kids – Marta signs autographs in Boston ahead of the final group-phase match with France.
(AFP)
Paul J. RICHARDS

The youngster chipped in with the third, after slipping snake-like past three defenders, to help put the Scandinavian standard-bearers to the proverbial sword.  And her comments after the match went a ways to capturing the player's justifiably growing confidence.

"I don't think anyone, including the U.S., will be looking forward to meeting us after that performance," she said.  She continued on to describe her own abilities this way: "The Lord gave me all my talent," she said. "Also, I grew up playing with boys, not girls, because the girls I knew didn't play football. I learned all my skills playing against the boys."

A somewhat disappointing 1-1 draw with France  in their final group game saw the Samba Queens - as they were beginning to be known - into the quarter-finals.  In their next match, just outside of Boston against the clever, eventual finalist Swedes, Brazil and Marta learned a valuable lesson - that their flair and panache may not always be enough.  Though Marta scored again, the Brazilians were second best to the Scandinavians' organisation and team play in a 1-2 reverse . 

Despite the relatively early exit  when measured against the scorching performances put in during the group phases, Marta announced her arrival at the top flight with a shrieking howl.  And even though Brazil went out at the first knockout hurdle, Marta did more than enough to get herself into the Team of the Tournament as a reserve.

The youngest team at the finals - with an average age of just 22 - the future was looking bright for the Brazilians.  With flashes of brilliance, the performance at USA 2003 set the stage for Brazil and Marta's true breakout performance at the foot of mount Olympus a little over a year later.

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