Brazil has always been a competitor in women’s soccer. They have played in every single World Cup, and every single Olympics. Almost always, they reach the knockout stages. Talent has never been an issue: from Sissi, Katia and Pretinha, through to Marta, Formiga and Cristiane, they have always been able to call upon individual inspiration. Now, under the management of Pia Sundhage, their aim is to become a title-winning team.
‘Team’ is the key word. It’s one Sundhage uses a lot, and it’s something she has sought to build since taking the job four years ago. She arrived after Brazil suffered consecutive second round losses at the 2015 and 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cups. Sandwiched between those early exits was a fourth-place finish at the Olympics in 2016. Brazil lost, on home soil, in the semi-finals to Sweden, who were — ironically — managed by Sundhage.
In the 2000s, Brazil emerged briefly as one of the best teams in the international game, challenging the traditional superpowers: Germany and the United States. Marta was in her pomp at the time, but there was also an important tactical shift. Just as most teams were moving to a back four and zonal defense, Brazil went the other way, implementing a three-back with a sweeper. They became a more conservative side, defending with more numbers, and came close to winning major silverware.
At the 2004 Olympics, they lost the final in extra time to the United States. Three years later, they got revenge, hammering the U.S. 4-0 in the World Cup semis before losing to an exceptional German side. In the 2008 Olympics, they got revenge on the Germans with a 4-1 semifinal victory, only to run into the United States in the final and lose. Again, Sundhage was managing the opponent. In 2011, they came within seconds of beating the U.S., only to lose on penalties after a last-gasp extra time headed Abby Wambach equalizer.
For the best part of a decade, Brazil challenged the women’s soccer hierarchy, but often lost in heartbreaking fashion. Then, suddenly, it all fell away. And that’s where Sundhage came in.
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