Can Marta and Cristiane Fire Brazil to Olympic Gold This Summer?

Andrew Gibney@@gibney_aFeatured ColumnistAugust 2, 2016

Marta was named World Player of the Year for five straight years.
Marta was named World Player of the Year for five straight years.FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images

When Brazil hosted the 2014 FIFA World Cup, there was an expectation that the Selecao would go on to lift the famous trophy.

Germany's 7-1 destruction of the men in the semi-final was an embarrassment to the nation. It was not just about the defeat; it was the manner of the loss that hurt the most.

Two years on, Rio de Janeiro and Brazil need a strong Olympics to banish the memories of that day. For a nation obsessed with football, they are pinning their hopes on both the men's and women's football teams to reach the finals at the Maracana.

Cristiane is a lethal finisher when in sight of goal.
Cristiane is a lethal finisher when in sight of goal.Elsa/Getty Images

Neymar is the poster boy for the men's squad, and for the women, the pressure falls on the shoulders of the deadly Marta and Cristiane.

Manager Vadao couldn’t ask for a stronger midfielder-forward pairing to call upon. The attacking duo will play under the weight of a nation, however, and that might take its toll and decide whether Brazil can claim gold.

Marta, named as FIFA's World Player of the Year for a record five years straight from 2006 to 2010, is one of the greatest players to grace the women's game.

Brazil are partnering her speed, skill and eye-catching ability with a forward in Cristiane who has scored more goals than anyone else in this competition with 12.

This is her fourth Olympics after making her debut in the 2004 Athens Games at 19. This year, instead of finishing as top scorer, she hopes to swap the goals for gold.

“I’m very proud of that record, especially as I achieved it at a young age,” Cristiane told FIFA.com. “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.”

With two silver medals in the bag (2004, 2008), the 31-year-old understands the expectations and pressure from the home crowd:

There’s a risk, but it’s a good risk, 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.

Brazil are ranked eighth in the world, but they will be hoping their history in this tournament leans in their favour.

The team is full of experience, with 38-year-old Formiga continuing to anchor the midfield. She has played in every Olympics tournament since the Games introduced women's football in 1996.

Vadao can also call on footballers who play for clubs such as the Orlando Pride (Monica), Barcelona (Andressa) and the Houston Dash (Poliana), among others.

While speaking to FIFA.com, Paris Saint-Germain's Cristiane highlighted a couple of team-mates people 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.

If those players are the future, Cristiane and Marta are the present. When on their day, Brazil's attacking duo have the ability to trouble any defence in this tournament.

In a recent interview with Brazilian news site UOL (h/t the Huffington Post's Rafael Nardini), Marta was cautious not to put more pressure on her team-mates: “We almost won the gold medal in 2008, so now we will do our best.”

They should have enough quality to make it out of Group E after being drawn with Sweden, China and South Africa. The latter will be the favourites to miss out, but Sweden will have to be careful, too, after their poor showing at the World Cup in Canada last year.

Brazil have some atoning to do after that event as well after Australia beat them 1-0 in the last 16. That signified a changing of the guard and raised doubts over the legitimacy of the South American nation’s place at the top table of women’s football.

Brazil play China first in the opening game in Rio on Wednesday, and Vadao will be happy to have some inside knowledge of his side's opponents. Four members of his squad play for Chinese clubs. Fabiana and Debinha play for Dalian Quanjian, while Rafaelle and Raquel play for Changchun Yatai. 

Darlene, who also plays for Changchun Yatai, is one of the four reserve players who are still part of the team’s training squad.

As the Shanghai Daily noted, she and her Brazilian Changchun Yatai team-mates could provide some important insight, since the club's lineup includes four players who are on China's national team.

While speaking to reporters in Itu, in the south-eastern state of Sao Paulo, Darlene described her Changchun Yatai team-mates as “very good.”

"I have talked with my Brazilian team-mates quite a lot about how things are over there, but everything on our side is going well," the striker said.

When reporters asked the 26-year-old how she would handle playing against her Chinese team-mates, she revealed "in the match, there is no friendship, there is rivalry. Outside or after the match, we talk a little, 'hello', 'ni hao' (hello in Chinese). But inside we will be focused."

The hope is that playing against Sweden, China and South Africa in the group stage will give the team enough of a run to get flying before the knockout stage.

Brazil have been involved in a lengthy training camp so everyone can jell in preparation for the Olympics, but there is no substitution for actual game time.

Expectations are high, but Brazil shouldn't take long to get up to speed with two of the most experienced and dangerous players in the world leading the attack. The bigger question is whether the side have enough to go all the way.

No one is questioning Marta’s place in the pantheon of women’s football, and she will have more than enough ability to take Brazil far. However, even with her and Cristiane, it is going to be a much bigger challenge to defeat teams such as Germany, France and the 2012 Olympic champion United States, who also claimed victory in the 2015 World Cup.

Brazil are prepared. They have the talent to challenge for a medal and have ability all over the pitch, but it will take more than just the roar of the home crowd to push them to a gold medal this summer.

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