FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007

7 June - 7 July

FIFA Women's World Cup 2007™

Player to Watch: Marta

Winning a major accolade is usually an emotional event for any footballer, and Brazil's Marta proved no exception when she stepped up to collect the FIFA Women's World Player of 2006 award. Yet as the tears welled up in her eyes, the talented youngster revealed her insatiable appetite for success.

"Next year will be a very, very important one for me," she told the assembled audience. "We'll be going to China for the World Cup, and I just can't wait for it to start. I don't know if we'll win it, but we'll certainly be going there with the firm belief that anything is possible."

Winning the world crown will be no easy task, as Marta knows fully well. Yet fighting against the odds is something this prodigious 21-year-old has grown used to since taking her first steps in the game. Football may be a religion in her native country, but back in the days when the young Marta discovered her passion for the sport, girls were largely discouraged from playing, a standpoint shared by her family.

Undeterred, Marta packed her bags for Sweden in 2004. Aged just 18 and far away from her loved ones in a land where the language was alien to her and the weather even more so, the determined teenager sought to overcome the many obstacles she faced by showing just what she could do with a ball at her feet. When club side Umea offered her the chance she had been denied at home, she was determined to make the most of it.

And that is exactly what she did. Today, three years on, the free-scoring striker is a world star. As well as the glittering award she picked up in Zurich last December, the youngster has also pocketed two Pan-American Games gold medals and a silver medal at the Athens 2004 Women's Olympic Football Tournament with the Seleção, not to mention a UEFA Cup winner's medal with Umea.

Yet nothing has moved her more, perhaps, than the recognition she received from her compatriots at the Estadio Maracana. It was there at the temple of Brazilian football that the No10 left her footprints in the Hall of Fame, becoming, in the process, the very first woman to line up alongside national legends such as Pele, Zico, Garrincha, Ronaldo and Romario, to name but a few.

Such is the sheer range of gifts at her disposal, it is difficult to describe what makes Marta such a special player. A mean turn of pace combined with the maziest of dribbling skills can unhinge even the tightest of defences. And with her innate goalscoring instinct, fearsome shooting ability, unselfish passing and willingness to help team-mates out of tight spots, she has become the complete player. A reserved character off the pitch, she is the leader of the Brazil pack on it, bubbling with energy and seemingly immune to fatigue. Her only weakness is perhaps in the air, standing as she does a mere 1.60 metres tall.

A meteoric rise*
The rest of the world caught its first glimpse of Marta when she took part in the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship Canada 2002 at the tender age of 16. And a year later she was back in the global spotlight at the FIFA Women's World Cup USA 2003.

Seen as a promising rookie on those occasions, by the time Athens 2004 came around she was the undisputed star of the team and the foundation of their gold medal hopes - hopes that were ultimately thwarted by USA in an extremely close final. It was a role she occupied once more at the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship Thailand 2004, and although the Auriverde limped home in fourth place, Marta's stunning individual performances earned her the adidas Golden Ball.

A brilliant 12 months was capped by her third place at the 2004 FIFA World Player Gala. A year later she had climbed into second place, duly completing her rise to the top in 2006. Clutching the much-coveted award in her hands, Marta announced her goals for the year ahead, and although her club missed out in the UEFA Cup final, the Brazilian sensation rediscovered that winning feeling when the girls in yellow and green struck gold at the recent Pan-American Games. Next up is the FIFA Women's World Cup itself, and if she fails in her mission to claim the trophy, it will certainly not be due to a lack of ambition or talent.

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