Watch Brazil in 2015 As You Watched Brazil in 2014
The Brazilian team that will face South Korea on June 9th is a very interesting mix of familiar and new faces. This is not entirely different than the Brazilian men’s team in 2014. In the case of women, however, to be a “veteran” means having watched decades of unfulfilled promises to improve the terms of women’s participation. Supporters of women’s clubs in Brazil have tried, and failed, to create a stable professional league, obtain adequate funding, and raise the profile of athletes. Being a veteran also means they’ve helped to achieve important milestones, including securing a training camp and medical personnel. In addition to their accomplishments on the field, in other words, the “veterans” of the 2015 squad have been involved in administration and mentoring in a way that male stars have not.
The high level of support for and interest in the Brazilian men’s team has not translated into greater support for the women’s side. This is not for lack of interest or talent among female athletes. While not quite as successful as their male counterparts, the Brazilian women's national team boasts a respectable record and some of the world’s finest players. Given the official prohibition on women’s football between the 1940s and the 1970s, the perseverance of the athletes to establish a viable professional league and national program is all the more impressive. The Brazilian women’s teams have won the most Copa Americas, six of seven, and have achieved the best results of any South American women’s contingent in international play, with a third place finish in the 1999 World Cup and a second place finish in the 2007 World Cup. The team has also won two silver medals in Olympic tournaments. They have been the only South American women’s side that poses a threat to the world’s top teams.
Given the footballing success that the Brazilian national women’s team has achieved, it is surprising that this is the first permanent women’s national team, with a real “training camp.” Moreover, this year’s coach Vadão, though untested as of yet, seems to have a genuine rapport with the players. Although he is known for cultivating the talents of some legendary players, including Kaká, Vadão is a somewhat controversial hire, given his spotty performance in the professional leagues of Brazil. Vadão may be showing a willingness to change things up on the roster. Notably, he appears to have left behind Daiane Menezes Rodrigues. Daiane may be feeling the backlash of her own goal and missed penalty kick in Brazil’s loss to the United States, which knocked Brazil out of the 2011 competition.
If we based predictions on the lead-up to the 2015 World Cup, Brazil stands a good chance to make it out of their group, but not much further. However, there are a few dynamics of this team that are inspiring, and possibly will help propel them forward in the tournament. The first, is the balance of experience and youth. The team is anchored, in spirit and play, by midfielder Miraildes Maciel Mota, better known as Formiga, which is the Portuguese word for ant. Formiga is in her twentieth year on the national team, at the age of 37. Her intelligence will surely be central to the game plan of the team. She works beautifully with forwards Cristiane, Marta, and Debinha. Sadly, Debinha will sit out the tournament having suffered a knee injury.
Formiga can be an effective playmaker for Brazil. She has deep knowledge of international strategies and players, so she can “read” teams quickly. This can be a huge advantage, if she can marshal the support of her young teammates in defence. Her partner in this effort will most certainly be Marta, who will be playing in her fourth World Cup. Marta is one of the most talented players in the history of the game, and she can act as an assurance to young players like Andressa. If Marta is on her game no one can intimidate her. She recently scored an impressive hat-trick against the U.S. with Hope Solo in goal. The U.S., Japan, and Germany, no doubt are the favourites in this tournament, but Brazil shouldn’t be underestimated.
There’s a larger point, I argue, about “How to Watch the Women’s World Cup,” which is that we mistakenly assume that it should somehow be approached differently than the men’s World Cup. Women and men play together all the time in Brazil, although women haven’t had nearly the same opportunities. Marta played almost exclusively on boys’ teams until nearly adulthood. Football is integrated into all aspects of Brazilian social life, especially family gatherings. It should not be surprising that the styles of play in the national repertoire aren’t entirely different. Formiga cites the midfielder Dunga as her inspiration. They both represent a version of Brazilian football that favours slower and less physical play. Formiga’s timing is quite similar to Dunga’s, meaning she tends to avoid contact with other midfielders. This could be playing to one’s strengths, in the sense that they are smaller statured players. We shouldn’t assume, though women haven’t been credited, that they don’t influence the national game. We should afford the women’s team in 2015 the same optimism we afforded the men’s in 2014.