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Last Updated: Monday, 10 September 2007, 07:46 GMT 08:46 UK
Tim Vickery column
Tim Vickery
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

On the 26 July, Brazil really turned on the style in Rio's giant Maracana stadium, ripping their opponents to shreds and sending a capacity crowd into ecstasy.

Star of the Brazil women's team, Marta
Fifa has hailed the qualities of Brazil's Marta
Nothing remarkable there - except that wearing the yellow shirts were Brazil's women's team, who won gold in the Pan-American Games by beating the USA 5-0 in the final.

In truth, it was not really a fair fight.

The United States team was entirely made up of teenagers, while Brazil were at full strength - with the same squad that is now in China for the World Cup.

But the very fact that Brazil are a power in women's football is a cause for celebration.

The countries that tend to be strong in the sport are those which have a progressive approach to gender roles. Though there are pockets of progress in Brazil, it remains a staunchly macho society.

My girlfriend, growing up in the poor suburbs of Rio, was beaten by her father if he caught her playing football - as well as other supposedly masculine pursuits such as marbles, flying a kite or riding a bicycle.

Coming back from China with the World Cup would be an excellent way of shaming Brazil's administrators into action
Many of Brazil's women players have had to overcome similar prejudice.

The inspirational aspect of the Brazil team is that the players see themselves as the standard bearers for their sport.

The poignant side of their story is that for many of them football remains a labour of love.

It is very hard to make a living in Brazil as a female professional footballer.

In the 1996 Olympics, they were only given three pennants to exchange with the opposing captain before the kick off - just enough for the group games.

They shocked even their own administrators by reaching the knock-out stages.

Though their presence on the podium has now become commonplace - semi-finalists in the 1999 World Cup, silver medallists in the 2004 Olympics - official faith in them still seems to be rationed.

A national league for them has yet to be set up.

For this reason the Pan-American gold medal back in July was so important.

It may have been something of a formality. But it gave them the chance to show what they can do in front of their home public.

Wonderfully talented attacking midfielder Marta, recognised by Fifa as the world's outstanding player, was in tears after the game.

"There are lots of girls, lots of Martas all over Brazil wanting to play football. I can't play in my own country," said the Sweden-based star, "because we don't have a league."

Coach Jorge Barcellos pointed out that "we're doing our part, but the administrators need to do theirs, setting up leagues. If it's organised, it will be profitable. You don't even have fights in the stadium. It can bring back old style football."

Coming back from China with the World Cup would be an excellent way of strengthening their bargaining position and shaming Brazil's administrators into action.

But Rene Simoes, who coached them to that silver medal in Athens, thinks it is unlikely.

The moustachioed figure best known for taking Jamaica's Reggae Boys to France 98 told the local press: "The support our girls get is almost non-existent.

"If since 2004 there had been the kind of work done with them that the US team receives then I would believe in the title. But the way they've been treated, we can only hope for a miracle."

Brazil's women footballers have overcome higher obstacles just to get where they are today.

So starting against New Zealand on Wednesday, Marta, Cristiane, Daniela Alves, Formiga and company go chasing that miracle.


Got a question about South American football for Tim Vickery? Email him at

Tim - When I was in South America, I watched matches in Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina.

I was fortunate enough to experience a Boca-River Plate derby which absolutely blew me away. I described it to my dad and he reckoned the atmosphere and passion used to be similar in England.

The same cannot be said today. I recently watched my team, Tottenham Hotspur, and the atmosphere was like a Sunday pub league match.

The high prices have forced out the real fans and replaced them with posh city types who don't have a clue. Now, if you want excitement you have to go to the lower leagues where atmosphere is unfortunately to the detriment of talent.

Would you agree South America football combines extreme talent with the kind of real passion and atmosphere I crave?
Tom Causer

I'd only agree to a point. I think it's a bit too easy to glamourise the 'good old days' in England.

English football is the product of industrial society and as industrial society entered into a crisis in the late 1970s and 80s, so did English football - with outdated stadiums, fans being treated like cattle and a nihilistic atmosphere full of hatred and racism.

The astonishing success of English football these days can be explained - as the country has turned into some kind of post-industrial theme park, football offers people a chance to get back in touch with the collectivist values of industrial society in a sanitised way.

But whatever the explanation, it is a remarkable success, although millions being priced out of the people┐s game should be a concern.

The Brazilian Rodrigo had a short spell with Everton a few years back.

He'd scored hat-tricks in the Maracana in front of 2,000 people, and he couldn't get over what he saw in England - packed stadiums, lots of families.

He called it the Hollywood of football and said it seemed to him that the game was more important in England than in Brazil.

I was at a game last week in the Maracana - Botafogo and Palmeiras, both fighting it out for a place in the top four and qualification for the Copa Libertadores. Less than 9,000 turned up.

There is more than one reason for the low attendances - the socially corrosive fear of violence is certainly one of them.

But another one is the lack of idols, the absence of extreme talent - it's not easy to find top-class players in domestic South American football between the ages of 23 and 30.

They are all abroad and they're moving away at an ever-earlier age. The European clubs will be ripping them out of the womb soon.

Tim Vickery column
19 Aug 07 |  Internationals


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