If there's a crowd, Marta must be there

WOLFSBURG, Germany -- Marta draws a crowd.

The brilliant Brazilian draws a crowd of defenders on the field trying to stop her. Australia was relatively successful and kept her off the score sheet in a 1-0 Brazilian win Wednesday. Norway was less successful Sunday -- Marta found space all too often, scoring two goals, and upon drawing a crowd early in the second half, she dished to Rosana for another.

Even after the game, Marta drew a crowd of Norwegians hoping to trade jerseys with her. Her federation has asked that the team not trade jerseys until after the final, so she had to decline. She draws crowds in the stands as well. The opener against Australia drew 27,258 fans to Moenchengladbach. On Sunday, the 26,067-capacity Arena Im Allerpark in Wolfsburg was full for Brazil's 3-0 win over Norway.

Marta says she doesn't think those fans were there to see her. Asked about the whistles she drew for a little shove that helped her clear a path to her first goal, Marta said: "We realize that there were more Norwegians in the stadium than Brazilians. We're playing in Europe, so it's obvious that the audience would be composed by European teams.

"Nevertheless … they applauded both teams at the end of the match."

Indeed they did, and the Norwegian contingent was hardly alone in whistling at Marta after her first goal or cheering her after her second.

For the record, here's Marta's take on the first goal, in which she sent Norway's Nora Berge to the turf on the right flank:

"I don't think it was a foul. I think it was a fast play, and we had to use our body, both players. I did not commit a foul. That was not my intention, and I think she stumbled on her own."

The rest of the play is not in dispute. Marta took the ball at Maren Mjelde in the box, stepped over the ball a couple of times, stepped over the leg of the fallen and beaten defender, then calmly ripped her shot into the corner.

Nor could anyone dispute what happened just after the second half started. Marta took the ball and roared down the left flank. In the box, she cut toward the center. Five Norwegian defenders were clustered around her. She simply slid the ball across the box to Rosana, who finished well.

Marta completed the scoring a couple of minutes later with a classic goal-poacher's goal. Teammate Cristiane pounced on a weak back-pass and fired a shot off Mjelde, who was still left alone to race out and challenge. Marta simply touched the ball to the right, created her angle and drilled the ball into the net.

Marta now has 12 goals in 12 Women's World Cup matches, tying her for second on the all-time scoring list with American Michelle Akers. If she continues on that goal-a-game pace, she will tie Germany's Birgit Prinz for the all-time lead in the quarterfinals, assuming the out-of-form Prinz doesn't find the net herself.

The big question facing Norway coach Eli Landsem in the postgame news conference was why her team couldn't stop Marta.

"It was impossible," Landsem said. "We did everything we could. But we didn't have the speed."

It takes more than speed to stop her, of course. She forces teams to adjust their tactics. And anyone who would dare defend her one-on-one has to be patient. One misplaced lunge, as the unfortunate young Mjelde discovered, and Marta has won the faceoff.

And yet Landsem doesn't seem to think Marta will be enough to win the tournament.

"I'm absolutely sure that the Germans are a much stronger team," Landsem said.

Brazil will close group play against Equatorial Guinea. If Brazil should somehow lose that game and the Australia-Norway winner can make up a substantial gap in goal difference, then Brazil would finish second in the group and play the Group C winner, either the USA or Sweden. Much more likely is that Brazil will take first and face the Group C runner-up.

"Thank God Marta's Brazilian," coach Kleiton Lima said. "She has two great qualities -- she's down to earth, and she's a genius."

Marta has a good reason to stay humble, bridging a gap between the practical and metaphorical.

"I need to keep my feet on the ground in order to play, so I keep down to earth."

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