RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Marta crumbled to her knees on the field at Brazil’s famed Maracana Stadium, her eyes filled with tears.
The major international title that has eluded her for her entire career would not come on home soil at these Olympic Games. Brazil was ousted from a shot at the Gold Medal Match 4-3 on penalties after a scoreless draw against Sweden on Tuesday.
Brazil will still play for the bronze medal against Canada on Friday in Sao Paulo with a chance to salvage the tournament in a smaller way than Marta and her teammates had hoped. Sweden will play Germany for the gold at the Maracana.
Even Sweden’s players consoled her after the game. Marta has played professionally in that country for the past four years.
“‘They praised our team and said they were sorry for taking Brazil out of the final. They wanted to see us playing in the final here in Brazil. But this is football. Someone has to lose,” she said. “They fought until the end, just like we did, and came out on top in the penalties.”
When she finally rose, she and Sweden coach Pia Sundhage shared a warm embrace.
“All of the Swedish players know Marta very well. I think she had a fantastic game,” Sundhage said. “She created a couple of problems for us, but at the end of the day, trying to stop her, I think we did pretty good. Marta is a very good player.”
Known simply by her first name, Marta Vieira da Silva won fans all over Brazil during the Olympic tournament.
While women’s soccer is not very popular in Brazil, Marta impressed with her intelligent play and stellar footwork. When the men’s side was struggling early in the tournament, some fans crossed out Neymar’s name on their No. 10 jerseys and wrote in “Marta” in magic marker.
“Better than Neymar!” fans cheered after one match.
Marta grew up playing street soccer with the boys in Dois Riachos, a town about 1,250 miles north of Rio de Janeiro. She was only 17 when she appeared at the 2003 World Cup in the United States.
For the 2006 season, Marta won the first of an unprecedented five straight FIFA World Player of the Year awards.
Dubbed “Pele in skirts,” Marta scored seven goals at the 2007 World Cup in China, but Brazil finished as runners-up in the tournament after falling to Germany 2-0 in the final.
With Marta, the Brazilians won the silver medal at both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. Her duel with goalkeeper Hope Solo in the final at the Beijing Games was considered epic. Carli Lloyd scored the game-winner in extra time for the Americans, but it was Solo who fended off a point-blank shot from Marta in the 72nd minute.
One of their biggest showdowns came at the 2011 World Cup in Germany. Solo came out the victor on penalty kicks after a dramatic 2-2 draw. Marta had both goals for Brazil, including a controversial penalty kick, but Solo was able to stop Daiane in the shootout. The Americans, knocked out in the Rio quarterfinals by Sweden, would go on to the final that year.
“With Marta you have to have a little extra attention to her, even though our team defense is really good and really organized. That’s a compliment to her,” Solo told The Associated Press during the Olympics. “I have played for coaches in the past who thought we could just play our style of soccer against Marta, and we’ve been punished for it. So I’m very aware that we have to pay extra attention to her.”
Marta has scored 104 goals in 107 international appearances. She has the most World Cup goals with 15. She has 10 Olympic goals, tying her for third on the career list with Abby Wambach of the U.S.
But what Marta doesn’t have in her storied career is a major international title. At 33, it is conceivable that Marta could play in the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.
Brazilian coach Vadao said he hoped Marta and the team’s other vets — namely Formiga and Cristiane — don’t walk away following the Olympics.
“I think to lose Formiga, Marta and Cristiane would be regrettable because we need their experience to lead the next generation,” the coach said.