International Soccer
Marta, Brazil come up short again

By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - When the dust from the first three quarterfinal matches at the 2011 Women's World Cup had settled on Sunday, France, Japan and Sweden were left standing.

Gone was two-time defending champion and favorite Germany, which crashed out of the competition after losing 1-0 to Japan in extra time.

This left the winner of the last quarterfinal between Brazil and the United States as the clear favorite, with the South Americans suddenly in a great position to finally break through and claim their first major trophy.

Brazilian women's soccer has come a long way since the team first appeared at the Women's World Cup in 1991.

Brazil lost five of its first six games at the competition between the 1991 and 1995 events, but things gradually changed in 1999 with a third-placed finish due in large part to the play of Sissi.

A quarterfinal exit in the 2003 tournament was a step back, but since that time, Brazil has emerged as one of the top teams in the world, reaching the final of the 2004 and 2008 Olympics as well as the 2007 World Cup final.

Despite all their success in recent years, with players like Marta and Cristiane emerging as superstars, Brazil has yet to win the big one. And Cristiane acknowledged prior to the start of the World Cup that in order for the women's team to receive any recognition, that must change.

"We've already done so much to change the way women's football is perceived and the backing it receives in Brazil," Cristiane told FIFA.com.

Brazilian women's soccer has come a long way since the team first appeared at the Women's World Cup in 1991.
"But here in Brazil, particularly in footballing circles that have been spoiled with success over the years, nobody pays any attention to those results, they're only interested in titles. I remember when the Germans, for example, ended up with bronze medals in Beijing and were welcomed back with an enormous party. Here though, the fact we lost the final took the shine off everything else we'd achieved."

Brazil entered the competition as the third-ranked team in the world, and if results went to form, they wouldn't face the United States or Germany until the final.

It seemed like things were finally falling into place for Brazil, which cruised through group play with three wins and zero goals allowed.

Even when the United States lost to Sweden in group play, setting up a more difficult quarterfinal than expected, Brazil was still in a great position to make a deep run.

All they had to do was get past the United States, a team they beat 4-0 in the semifinals of the 2007 World Cup.

An own goal in the opening two minutes of the match put Brazil behind, but things seemed to be breaking their way in the second half as a number of questionable calls from match referee Jacqui Melksham went in their favor.

First, U.S. defender Rachel Buehler was sent off for a foul on Marta inside the penalty area. And after Cristiane's subsequent penalty kick was saved by goalkeeper Hope Solo, the kick was taken again because of an infraction by an American defender.

Marta buried her spot kick to level the match, but Brazil failed to take advantage of being a player up for the final 25 minutes of regulation.

It looked like Brazil would survive when Marta scored her second goal of the contest early in extra time, but one lapse in defense just before the final whistle allowed Abby Wambach to coast in at the back post and head home a pinpoint cross from Megan Rapinoe.

Having snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, there was no way Brazil would win on penalties, and now they must head home knowing that a golden chance has been wasted.

Brazil will be back at it again at next summer's Olympics in London, and most of the team's key players from this World Cup will still be around for the 2015 tournament in Canada.

One of the few positives for Marta from Sunday's match was the fact that her two goals move her into a tie with Germany's Birgit Prinz atop the all-time scoring list at the World Cup with 14 goals.

But unlike Prinz, who has won two World Cups, Marta doesn't gave a major trophy to go along with all of her individual accolades.

And she did herself no favors on Sunday with her behavior on the field as she was booed and jeered throughout the match despite scoring two goals.

The criticism stemmed from her incessant whining to the referee as she was visibly frustrated by the U.S. defense. And she came off looking like a spoiled teenager with her constant complaining when she was booked just before halftime .

But despite the loss, Brazil coach Kleiton Lima offered this curious comment: "I still think we've had a good World Cup, even if ultimately we didn't achieve our goal."

How losing in the quarterfinals when you are one of the favorites constitutes a good World Cup is puzzling, especially given the fact that Brazil has come close on numerous occasions in recent years to winning the entire tournament.

"Now there's a lot expected of us," Cristiane said when discussing Brazil's expectations prior to the tournament. "For the sake of Brazilian women's football over the next few years, we simply can't afford to go backwards.

"Now it's time for us to win it."

On Sunday it appeared as though it was time for Brazil to win it. But now they have gone backwards, and it will be interesting to see how Marta and the rest of her teammates deal with the reality that they have come up short, again.

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Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com.

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