Tuesday 25 February 2020, 09:25

Cristiane: Marta is without doubt the greatest in history

  • Cristiane hails Marta, Megan Rapinoe and Christine Sinclair

  • She discusses the great impact Pia Sundhage has had on Brazil

  • The striker believes the Seleção can win gold at Tokyo 2020

Had one of the game’s deadliest markswomen made a heartrending exit from international football’s grandest stages?

Cristiane, after scoring four times in what was her ninth FIFA Women’s World Cup™ or Women’s Olympic Football Tournament™, hobbled from the Stade Oceane turf in extra-time of a Round-of-16 showdown with the hosts at France 2019. Minutes later, Amandine Henry scored the goal that ended Brazil’s campaign.

That thigh injury ultimately kept the Osasco, Sao Paulo native out for a few months, during which time the Pia Sundhage parade was in full swing and flourishing. Cristiane would be 35 by the time Tokyo 2020 began. Did she still desire the Seleção? Did the Swedish coach desire her at the expense of excelling youngsters?

Those questions were answered late last year. Sundhage recalled Cristiane and started her in back-to-back friendlies against Mexico. The iconic No11 responded with two goals and two stellar performances, earned rave reviews from her new boss, and is now preparing for the Tournoi de France.

FIFA.com caught up with Cristiane to discuss the highs and lows of France 2019, the great impact Sundhage has made on Brazil, going for gold in Tokyo, Marta’s place in football history, Christine Sinclair’s world record and when she plans to retire.

FIFA.com: At France 2019, you became the first Brazilian to score a hat-trick at the FIFA Women’s World Cup since Sissi and Pretinha at USA 1999 and you scored the Hyundai Goal of the Tournament, but Brazil ended up losing to France in the Round of 16. How was that World Cup for you?

Cristiane: It was a really important World Cup for me, considering I was at risk of not going because of some injuries. I had to recover in a really short space of time to be able to go. I wasn’t 100 per cent as I would have liked to be, but I really surprised myself because I didn’t imagine I’d score three goals in one match or have the impact I had. It was really important for me to achieve this historic landmark for Brazilian women’s football. Unfortunately we were eliminated by France. It was a really competitive game. We surprised everybody – even the French people, who thought it would be easy. I think we managed to leave a really positive impression, even in defeat.

Did you consider retiring after France 2019?

I thought about retiring in the past, but I set myself a two-year target. I wanted to play these two huge tournaments – the World Cup last year and the Olympics. Things can change along the way, but in my mind they will be the last two tournaments of my [international] career. And I want to keep playing at club level until I’m around 36, while at the same time studying, taking courses, so that when I retire from playing I can involve myself in women’s football off the pitch.

Brazil are unbeaten in eight games since Pia Sundhage took charge. You beat England in England, Canada 4-0 and thrashed Mexico twice. Do you think the Seleção have improved under Pia?

Yes. I think she sees the game in a completely different way. She has a vision for tactics and physical play that is really important. I think the experience, the titles, the story that she had in Sweden and the United States has blessed us greatly. She’s accustomed to saying that we have the talent, the dribbling that comes naturally, but that there are other things we have to rectify, and that's what she’s doing with us.

Her arrival has been a big positive. She’s changed the whole squad. Our attitude day by day, our attitude in games, she’s changed it a lot. And there’s intense competition for places, which is a big benefit. We don’t have 11 players as, unfortunately, we’ve had in the past. We have 20-odd. Pia says she won’t call up a player because she’s played in the World Cup or because she’s experienced or because she’s young. Every player has a fair chance. Nobody is in the comfort zone, even if they have great pedigree, so they have to give their all.

She’s also taught us a lot and has made all the players very happy. And she fits in really well with us Brazilians. We speak English, she speaks Portuguese. She really enjoys the way we joke around, listen to music. She has a lot of fun.

Brazil came close to winning major titles in 2004, 2007 and 2008. Are you confident that you can win gold at Tokyo 2020?

Yes, without doubt. You always have to have confidence going into competitions. Pia has revitalised us. She shows us, day by day, there’s hope of winning the gold medal at the Olympics. We’re all very excited by everything that’s happening. We’ve got great hope that we can finally win gold.

How do you feel to be the all-time leading markswoman in the Olympics?

Really, really happy. I think I can represent the dreams of so many little girls in Brazil who dream of playing for the Seleção, in the World Cup, at the Olympics. It’s a dream that I’m realising. We have Marta as the leading scorer in the World Cup, and me as the leading scorer in the Olympics, so it’s a Brazilian double. It’s really important for us – not just personally, but for women’s football in Brazil. Playing in the Olympics is such a special feeling. First I have to fight very hard for my place in the squad, and if I manage that I must do the same to [start] games. I think it will be very important for my history in the Seleção. And I hope this time we can win the gold medal we’ve dreamed about so, so much.

What do you make of Marta’s career?

She’s without doubt the greatest in the history of football. For everything she’s won, the titles she’s won. It gives us immense happiness to have a Brazilian having achieved all of this, especially given the difficulties we’ve had with women’s football in Brazil. To have Marta representing us gives us all great pride.

Christine Sinclair recently became international football’s all-time leading scorer. What did you think of that?

I’ve been playing against Sinclair since 2002, at my first World Cup, the U-19s in Canada [now the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup]. She’s a penalty-area killer. She’s always ready to pounce on any loose ball, any mistake by a defender. She always scores important goals. She’s a quality player. I think the record is very important for her and her country. Everybody in Canada must be really proud. Even though she plays for another country, we should all hail these landmarks because they are important for women’s football. I think we are all winners when we have a player winning titles and setting records, representing women’s football so positively.

Who do you think is the best player in the world right now?

I think it’s Megan [Rapinoe]. To be honest, it’s difficult for me to judge, because I’m playing outside of Europe and USA, so I can’t follow all of the players. But I think it's Megan, for everything she did at the World Cup.

Brazil face the Netherlands in their Tournoi de France opener. What do you think of their team and your counterpart in it, Vivianne Miedema?

Holland have evolved a lot. They didn’t get to the World Cup Final for nothing. We’ll have to be cautious because they’re tall, strong. Miedema’s a goalscorer. She’s really young. She’s in really good form. She’s very important for her country. For me, for us, it’s always exciting to play against great players and great national teams.

Corinthians set a world record last year and are unbeaten in 48 games. Do you think Santos can overcome them and win titles this year?

I think so. Anyone can win and lose. I think this year the Campeonato Brasileiro is, perhaps, wider open than it ever has been. There are other very strong sides. Santos have a really beautiful, important story within Brazilian women’s football. The club has been rebuilt with the aim of winning more titles.

Lyon and North Carolina Courage are considered by many to be the best teams in the world. Do you think teams like Santos and Corinthians could test them?

They are very different leagues, different levels, but we would give it a go. I can’t say for certain because football is a box of surprises. Brazilian clubs have managed to bring a lot of players here from abroad, and this has really helped improve the standard. It would be really interesting.