The 15th edition of the Pan American Games currently underway in Rio de Janeiro witnessed the latest masterclass by the irrepressible Brazilian Marta. With 12 goals and a series of dazzling displays, the attacking midfielder not only proved the driving force behind the Auriverdes' gold medal-winning campaign, she also secured women's football a place in the hearts of thousands of fans at the city's footballing temple, the Maracana.
With one eye on the upcoming FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007, Jorge Barcellos took a full strength squad to the Games, where his charges had little trouble reaching the final after high-scoring wins in all their matches. Particularly noteworthy was their 7-0 drubbing of the Canada (with five goals from Marta), as the Canucks were also using the tournament to put their China 2007 side through their paces.
Runners-up USA, who brought their U-20 squad to the tournament, had just one slip-up during the group phase, going down 3-2 to Mexico. However, the Stars and Stripes were never in contention in a one-sided final at Rio's mythical Estadio Maracana.
Seemingly intent on restoring Brazilian pride, after their male counterparts had crashed out of the same competition to Ecuador at the same venue only days before, the Verdeamarelhas were ruthless in seeing off the North Americans' challenge. Marta and Cristine weighed in with a brace apiece, with Daniela grabbing another, as the hosts ran out comfortable 5-0 winners to retain the gold medal they won at the last edition of the Games at Santo Domingo in 2003.
Brazil took top honours without conceding a single goal, while scoring an impressive 33 themselves - Marta's 12 making her the tournament's top-scorer. The 21-year-old also had the honour of being invited to leave her footprint in the stadium's Hall of Fame, the first women ever to be afforded the distinction.
The No10's stellar displays is one of the main reasons Brazilian fans are opening their hearts to the women's national team. An indication of the esteem in which the FIFA World Player of the Year 2006 is held by her compatriots could be found in the banners on display at the Maracana, among which were "I didn't see Pele, but I saw Marta" and "Marta is better than Kaka."
*Canada take bronze * The Canucks came through the group phase thanks to three wins from four games, the only blemish being the whipping they received from Brazil in their final group match. In their semi-final clash with old rivals USA, Canada were undone by two goals from Stars and Stripes captain Lauren Cheney.
Despite the setback, the Canucks finished on a high, taking the last place on the podium after a 2-1 win over Mexico in the match for third place. Canada went ahead after Christine Sinclair seized on a pass from Britanny Timko that caught the Tricolor defence napping, and shortly afterwards Mexico's problems worsened when keeper Anjuli Ladron de Guevara had to be replaced by Pamela Tajonar after picking up an injury. Kristina Kiss then put her side further ahead before Mexico threw themselves a lifeline, Teresa Worbis finding the net with a second-half penalty.
Canada managed to keep possession despite some intense Mexican pressure and hold on for a 2-1 win. Now, the challenge facing Even Pellerud's side is to iron out the defects that caused them to lose to two teams who will also be competing at China 2007 and to get several injured players back to full fitness ahead of the 10 September kick-off in the far east.
Argentina, who will also be present at China 2007, showcased an interesting mix of youngsters and veterans at the Games but lost out on a semi-final berth to Group B rivals Mexico on goal difference.