Pressure is on Brazil in World Cup

June, 28, 2011
06/28/11
3:00
PM ET

MONCHENGLADBACH -- It's only fitting that the last of the favorites to play its first game in this year's Women's World Cup would be Brazil. After all, the world's best player, Marta, is worth waiting for. Her side will face Australia in Group D's final match Wednesday.

"As a player, you watch the beautiful game and probably Marta is the best at actually playing the beautiful game," Australian goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri said at a press conference Tuesday at Borussia Park.

The 25-year-old Marta is in the prime of her career, with five straight World Player of the Year titles in her trophy case. She's also the two-time reigning Women's Professional Soccer Player of the Year. There's no more decorated player, ever, in the women's game -- but there's also no player (or team) that has finished runner-up for an international title more times than has Marta and Brazil.

The Samba Queens are still looking for that elusive first world title.

"Marta feels a personal responsibility, but we have 21 players, officials, coaches. We all want to have a good competition," Brazil coach Kleiton Lima said Tuesday through a translator.

For Brazil, the finals of international tournaments have become like trying to run through brick walls. In the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, as well as the 2007 World Cup, it's torched its opponents in the semifinals (Sweden, Germany, and the U.S., respectively) by a combined score of 9-1 -- only to be outscored by its opponents (U.S. in both Olympics and Germany in the World Cup) by a combined score of 5-1. Every time Brazil has taken the field it has had the best player in the world on its side, yet it's fallen victim to frustration, bad luck or incredible goalkeeping. The U.S.'s Briana Scurry (2004) and Hope Solo (2008) as well as Germany's Nadine Angerer (2007) can list their performances in those finals against Brazil as among the very best of their careers.

While Brazil is facing high expectations, underdog Australia is feeling loose heading into Wednesday's match.

"The pressure is not on us at all," Barbieri said. "The pressure is on Brazil to perform well and hopefully we can use that to our advantage, make sure that we play well and show the world what Australia has to offer."

Marta and Brazil may not enjoy quite the same amount of support German fans have offered nearly every other country so far this tournament. They are, after all, the second favorite behind Germany to win the title. But team captain Aline said she expects to have the crowd in Monchengladbach on her team's side, at least for now.

"All of the Germans want a final that is Germany against Brazil," she said Tuesday through a translator. "So, I think most of the crowd will be rooting for Brazil."

Whoever the fans are rooting for, the German crowds have impressed the players talking part in the World Cup.

"The reception [when Australia arrived in Germany] was massive and it made us feel very welcome in Germany," Barbieri said. "There's this football vibe."

Australia knows Brazil all too well, as the Matildas nearly sent Brazil packing in the 2007 quarterfinals before Marta's strike partner, Cristiane, dialed it up from long distance to give Brazil a 3-2 lead and put an end to Australia's upset hopes. Cristiane is expected to start alongside Marta again in this World Cup.

"Don't let them shoot," Barbieri joked when asked what she learned from the loss.

While most of the players on the field will be different for the Australian team this time, Australia coach Tom Sermanni said there's still a lesson to be learned from it.

"I suppose the importance of the 2007 game is that we actually came back into the game after going 2-0 down," Sermanni said. "As long as we stay in the game, we feel we can win the game."

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