Brazil aim high at Women’s World Cup despite Marta’s injuries

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Marta has won the world player of the year award six times but has never won the Women’s World Cup in five previous attempts with Brazil.

That’s something she and the team want to change.

Marta has been recovering from a knee injury but the 37-year-old striker is expected to play a role in Brazil’s bid for the title at the tournament co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

Brazil will be coached at a World Cup by a European for the first time; Pia Sundhage has had nearly four years to transform the team.

Sundhage, who led the US to two Olympic gold medals, called up Marta for friendlies against England and Germany in April but the forward remained in Florida to recover from a muscle injury in her left leg.

She later declared she was 100 percent ready to play, although the doubts over her fitness have persisted.

Marta had surgery to a repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament last year after injuring her left knee during a club game in the US. She was sidelined from the national team for 11 months, only returning to play for Brazil in a friendly against Japan in February.

Regardless of Marta’s level of fitness, Sundhage believes Brazil are among a group of 10 teams that could win the title.

The coach also insists her team has improved since the penalty shootout loss in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Canada at the Tokyo Olympics, a result that cast doubt on the team rebuilding job started in 2019.

Brazil, one of the three South American teams in the tournament, are expected to advance to the knockout stage in Group F. The group also includes France, the team that eliminated the Brazilians four years ago in the round of 16, Jamaica and Panama.

Only eight players involved in Brazil’s last Women’s World Cup campaign are expected to go to Australia for the group games — goalkeeper Leticia; defenders Kathellen, Rafaelle and Tamires; and forward Bia Zaneratto, Debinha, Geyse and Marta.

Brazil performed well in the two latest friendlies despite Marta’s absence, holding European champions England to a 1-1 draw before losing the Finalissima on penalties at Wembley Stadium on April 6. Days later, Brazil beat second-ranked Germany 2-1 in Nuremberg.

Sundhage said the win over Germany was among Brazil’s best performances since she took over.

“And we did that playing against one of the best teams in Europe,” Sundhage said after the match, saying it give the team more confidence for the World Cup “including confidence for myself.”

The 30-year-old Andressa Alves is expected to combine with Marta in Brazil’s attack. She scored 14 goals in 35 matches for Roma during the season, although she’d been likely to be on the bench for Brazil until Atletico Madrid striker Ludmila sustained an ACL injury that should rule her out.

One of Brazil’s new strengths that gives fans hope, even if Marta is unfit, is the young and intense midfield duo of Ary Borges and Kerolin.

“We are growing very well,” Borges said after Brazil’s win in Germany. “(For a while) we couldn’t win matches even when we played well. Now it is different. We are leaving here with a very positive thinking, we will arrive strong at this World Cup. Beating a team like Germany makes people look at us with more respect.”

Kerolin said in a podcast in mid-June that Brazil’s women are looking at Argentina’s World Cup- winning men’s team as a model for what they want to deliver for Marta.

“What they did for Lionel Messi, we want to do it for Marta,” Kerolin said. “She deserves it for who she is.”

Brazil will play a last friendly at home on Sunday against Chile in Brasilia. Then the Brazilian squad will head to Australia aiming to go one better than their best-ever finish in eight World Cup appearances: runner-up to Germany in 2007.

Brazil’s performances in the tournament will also be taken against a political backdrop, with the South American nation among the bidders to host the next edition of the Women’s World Cup.

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