Friday 19 August 2016, 09:16

Fans' support buoys bronze-chasing Brazil

When Lisa Dahlkvist converted Sweden’s fifth and final penalty to secure victory in their Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016 semi-final against Brazil, the Maracana fell quiet for a few moments. While the Scandinavians had booked their place in the final of the competition, the hosts were left with only bronze to fight for. The silence lasted but a few seconds, however, with the fans in the stands rising as one to applaud their team, who had tried everything in their luckless bid to find a way through the Swedish rearguard.

Despite the frustration they felt at the result, the Brazil players could at least take consolation from the fans’ show of support. The applause from the stands provided some welcome and deserved recognition for a side that showed throughout their campaign that not only were they entitled to dream of gold, but that they also had the football to achieve it.

“It makes us happy to know that at least we won the fans over wherever we played, thanks to our performances. We showed a lot of spirit and desire,” said Miraildes Maciel Mota, aka Formiga, in conversation with “They know how much we wanted that gold medal, because it would also have helped us in our efforts to develop the sport here.”

In all five of their games in the tournament to date, A Seleção have played in front of full houses, in four stadiums in three different cities. In total, some 232,000 people have seen the Brazilian women’s national team in action at Rio 2016, an average of 46,000 per game. That figure compares favourably with the average attendance of 14,000 in the men's Brazilian championship, where Palmeiras and Corinthians, who boast the highest crowds, attract an average of 31,000 supporters to their stunning, new stadiums. And it is one of those venues, the Arena Corinthians, that will host the bronze medal match between the hosts and Canada at 13.00 local time on Friday.

Experienced midfielder Formiga, 38, is as well qualified as anyone to discuss the welcome she and her team-mates have been getting around Brazil. After all, she has been an ever-present figure in the Olympic story of Brazil’s women’s football team, appearing at every Games between Atlanta 1996 and Rio 2016, setting a record that will be very difficult to beat. “We were a little relieved when we saw that the fans were with us the whole time. We put our all into it, and so did they. They kept pushing us to go and get the win.”

Not a one-woman teamAnother source of satisfaction for Formiga and Co is that the fans got behind them as a team, as a unit, when it is often the case that the big-name stars attract all the adulation. And when it comes to women’s football in Brazil – and the global game for that matter – Marta is as big a name as they come. Every time she picked the ball up deep and surged down the wings, the fans roared her on, though she was not the only one receiving plaudits from the stands.

Formiga’s unstinting midfield work in the semi-final against Sweden did not go unnoticed either. In response to every precise long ball or perfectly timed covering tackle, the crowd chanted her name. Hardened campaigner Cristiane, who was returning from injury, was another Brazil player to be hailed by the Maracana, while Barbara was, in the opinion of the crowd, “Brazil’s No1”. All the penalty takers had their names sung out loud too, and special chants devoted to them.

Giving her reaction to their support, Formiga said: “That’s good because it reflects how much we share the burden too, rather than just leave everything for Marta. The fans could really see how much effort we all put in. We were all delighted to get that support from them. What we want is for that to build now. Obviously, with Marta being our global star, it would have been great to reward her for everything she’s done by getting a gold medal. But now we just have to go out and fight for the bronze.”

A medal would be more than a consolation prize. Should A Seleção finish on the Olympic podium on Friday, it would be the third time that Formiga, Marta and Cristiane have done so, a tally that would put them level with legendary volleyball setter Fofao, the only Brazilian woman to win three medals to date. “It’s not over yet,” said the veteran Formiga. “We really want that medal, and I’ve got no doubt that we’ll be going in with the same determination and desire. It would set the seal on all the work we’ve done.”

The task will not be easy. Prior to losing to Germany in the semi-final, the Canadians had the best record of any team in the competition. Two things Formiga and her team-mates can count on as they go for bronze, however, is that they will have the fans right on their side and that they will be feted - come what may.