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Feature: "Pele in a skirt" dances into Olympic final
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09:25, August 19, 2008

Brazilian women soccer striker Marta, dubbed as "Pele in a skirt", helped her team on Monday evening beat its anchor rival Germany 4-1 to advance into the final of the Beijing Olympic tournament.

Showcasing a dazzling array of talents - imaginative attacking, pinpoint passing, flamboyant ball control and a cannon-like shot - Marta dominated the game by assisting Cristiane to be a leading scorer and scoring a beautiful goal herself.

The reigning two-time FIFA women's world player of the year never forgets Shanghai, where she and her team were beaten by the Germans 2-0 at last year's World Cup final at the nearby Hongkou Stadium.

"We played at our best. Germany is very strong. Last year in the World Cup we lost to them, but this time we did better and now we are confident for the final," Marta said after she finally took her revenge.

Scoring goals, dictating the pace of a game with her visionary playmaking skills and bamboozling opposing defenders with her wizard-like ball control, and more importantly, Marta also dedicated her strength into the defense, which made her seem to be an all-arounder on the every inch of the pitch.

The 22-year-old star announced her arrival in Beijing by presenting one goal in the group stage and produced two in last Friday's 2-1 quarterfinal win over Norway.

"Our target is to play in Beijing and win the gold medal. Now (it) is the time to fight for that," she said.

"If we can continue getting these tough wins then we can win the gold medal. It doesn't matter if the victories are easy or difficult. The important thing is the gold medal," Marta said.

Rising from a humble beginning, Marta began her ascension to the top of the women's game like millions of Brazilian kids, including legendary Pele - by learning the game and improving her skills on streets.

Born and raised in a small town named Dois Riachos in northeastern Brazil, Marta often played against local boys who tried to slow her down by hacking at her ankles as she attempted to dribble by them.

At the age of 16, she left home and tried her luck at Vasco da Gama's women's team before Rio club quickly signed her.

She played for Brazil's U19 squad and then was called up into the national team within the following two years, and shone in international competitions, including the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup and the 2004 Athens Olympics where Brazil won a silver medal.

Marta continued her professional career with Umea IK, helping the Swedish club win three consecutive league championships, and winning the FIFA women's world player of the year award in 2006 and 2007, and the MVP of the 2007 World Cup despite her missing a penalty in the final.

Marta also printed her own mark at Rio de Janeiro's Estadio do Maracana, the cathedral for Brazil's religion of soccer, last summer by leaving her concrete imprints in the stadium's walkway, which is used to be an old boys' club, including Ronaldo, Romario, Zico, Garrincha and, of course, legendary Pele.

Rene Simoes, who coached Brazil's women's team at the 2004 Olympics, compared Marta to another Brazilian striker - the great Romario, with whom he has also worked.

"They are very similar," he says. "Whether playing dominoes, cards, or football - neither of them accepts losing."

Simoes says Marta's technique is as good as the men's.

"Her ball control at speed is fabulous. She thinks fast. She is always scoring. I think in the history of women's football only Mia Hamm (from the United States) has been a better player. But Marta is much more creative. And she is only 21. In two years' time, she will overtake Mia to be the best," said Simoes.

Most importantly, Marta has managed to remain a cool head to her fame.

"I'm not a star. We have 18 stars on our team. We're all stars," Marta said in a training sessionin Beijing.


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