Brazil will be playing on Friday, but not for the medal the team hoped for. Instead, Marta & Co. will take on Canada in the bronze-medal match after the Rio 2016 Olympic host fell to Sweden on penalty kicks in the semifinals.
Sweden employed the same bunker against Brazil as it did against the U.S., and it worked yet again. Sweden and Brazil played a scoreless 120 minutes in the semifinal before the Swedes prevailed on PKs. That spelled heartbreak for Brazil, but there was mutual respect after the match.
“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,” Marta said. “They fought until the end, just like we did, and came out on top in the penalties.”
The reaction comes in stark contrast to that of U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo. Solo called Sweden “a bunch of cowards” after the U.S. bowed out in the quarterfinals of a major tournament for the first time ever.
[LAULETTA: Five reasons the USWNT exited the Olympics early]
Sweden coach Pia Sundhage had said she “doesn’t give a crap” about what Solo said, because she was headed to Rio for the semifinal (and now the final). There’s a pre-existing relationship there, as there is between Sweden and Brazil — and specifically Marta, who has spent most of her professional career playing there in the Damallsvenskan.
“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.”
Marta told reporters that she’ll be rooting for Sweden to win the gold medal.
“Many complain of Sweden’s tactics, but it is their tactic. It must accept. Now I hope they win it all.
“They took us out, hell, they’re going to the final now. Should they lose after that? My God, you can not! I can not accept it!”
Vadao: They carried out their strategy well against USA and neutralized his opponent. The result of the last game was unexpected. But they had a strategy and completed it. It’s not up to me to criticize an opponent, especially when their strategy went well and they have good results in both matches.
Brazil still has a bronze medal to play for, and that means a lot to the hosts, who have at least temporarily captured the hearts of home fans like never before. Brazil is a machismo country where women’s soccer, despite plenty of success — though still no Olympic or World Cup title — hasn’t been widely accepted by fans or supported by the federation. But now, there is hope that this showing will bring change.
“The biggest medal we can win in this Olympics is the respect from our people here [in Brazil],” Brazil’s Bruno Benites said. “Even though people call Brazil the capital of world soccer, that doesn’t apply to women’s soccer. Everyone only supports men’s soccer. These Olympics have changed that.”
Brazil coach Vadao also hopes that the support continues. Brazil had a residency program for the last 18 months in order to prepare for the World Cup and the Olympics.
“As to continuing the project of taking women’s soccer ahead, I am absolutely sure that this will continue,” he said. “Because that’s the wish of the CBF president. The technical commission might be replaced, but the president’s will is there to provide support. As to the future, of course this result brings frustration, and I can’t measure right now what would be the consequences, but I should say we have been working hard, and the effect of that can actually be seen. The team was strong.”
And the elephant in the room: This was Marta’s best shot to win an Olympic or World Cup title. The same goes for Cristiane. And for 38-year-old Formiga, this could be the end of the road.
“I think to lose Formiga, Marta and Cristiane would be regrettable because we need their experience to lead the next generation,” Vadao said.
[The Lowdown: Seven questions for return of NWSL]