KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Brazilian football will never entirely exorcise the spectre of the 2014 Mineirazo. The women’s team did their level best in defeating Australia in Belo Horizonte to reach the Olympic semi-finals. But it was a damn close-run thing.

The defeat of the near-eternal Olympic champions from the United States earlier in the day had raised Marta and her team-mates to the status of gold medal favourites. But the football fates appeared still unpersuaded when a goalless draw after extra-time stretched the tension to the near-snapping point of a penalty shootout.

Brazil captain Marta with something to celebrate

Worse, the world’s greatest woman player then saw her own kick saved, Brazil’s last of the regulation five. Enter goalkeeper B├írbara Micheline do Monte Barbosa, saving first from Katrina Gorry to rescue the sudden-death option and then from Alanna Kennedy to propel her team into the semi-finals.

The shootout margin ended up as 7-6 and the execution was near-exemplary. No-one shot either wide or skied the ball – as per, famously, Sergio Ramos or David Beckham – high over the bar. No Panenkas either. The three kicks which failed were all down to goalkeeping saves, two by Barbara, the one from Marta by Lydia Williams.

Lenient referee

Barbara took full advantage of the leniency of referee Carol Chenard in not picking her up, as per the latest directives, on stepping out from the goal line for her saves.

Two years ago, on the same stage, Brazil’s men spectacularly lost both collective heads and the plot by 7-1 against Germany in the semi-final of ‘their’ World Cup. The women still have their semi-final ahead of them, against a Swedish team who similarly needed penalties to halt the previously unstoppable American women’s bandwagon.

Marta, mixing the tones of a warrior with the tears of a wondrous winner in the pitch-side flash interview, proclaimed: “We go to the semi-final stronger because of this match.”

Brazil enjoyed margainally more of the meaningful possession in a match which ebbed and flowed while remaining perfectly balanced. But they were also fortunate late in normal time when a 25m drive from Chloe Logarzo clipped the top of Barbara’s crossbar.

The hosts’ best Olympic performance previously was in winning silver, after an extra time defeat to the US, in Beijing in 2008. One of the saddest sights of those Games was the sight of all 18 players sobbing in unison in line as they awaited the presentation of their losers’ medals.

Repeat duel

With two games remaining and the memories of 2014 still burned deep into the Brazilian football soul, the fear of history repeating itself – for women and/or men – is almost palpable. The fact that Marta & Co thumped Sweden 5-1 in the group stage should not be a cause for complacency.

In the great old days Brazil never doubted its right to a place on top of the men’s football world. Those days are long gone. It’s a measure of the shifting societal balance that, thus far, the women have appeared more likely to make amends for the Mineirazo than the men.

But whatever the results, when it’s all over, the shabby state of the CBF suggests that the women’s domestic game in Brazil will remain as unorganised and cash-starved as ever.

Hence the ultimate irony that Marta plays her club football with FC Rosengard in Sweden, with and against many of the players who now bar her next step towards Olympic glory.

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