MANAUS, BRAZIL —
Known simply by her first name, Marta Vieira da Silva is one of the best women ever to play soccer.
And with the Olympics in Brazil, people in her home country are finally getting familiar with her.
While Brazil's other No. 10 - Neymar - is struggling with the men's team, Marta is seeing success. And the locals are noticing.
For her two goals in a 5-1 victory over Sweden, Marta was showered with cheers. And it wasn't just her goals, one of which came from the penalty spot. She also displayed stunning footwork that wowed spectators.
“Better than Neymar!” the fans at the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro chanted.
“She brings so much passion to the game. So much enthusiasm. And I think her teammates thrive off that passion,” U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo said. “We always have to game-plan for her.”
With the victory, Brazil assured itself of a spot in the quarterfinals. The United States and Canada also have already secured sports in the knockout round with one more day of group play on Tuesday. The Brazilians face South Africa at Amazonia Arena in Manaus, following a match between the United States and Colombia. The event is already a sellout.
When Brazil arrived in Manaus on Sunday, a small crowd of about 100 was there to greet the team at the airport. Some chanted for Marta and a few young girls even wore her No. 10 jersey.
Marta grew up playing street soccer with the boys in Dois Riachos, a town about 1,250 miles north of Rio de Janeiro. She was only 17 when she appeared at the 2003 World Cup in the United States.
For the 2006 season, Marta won the first of an unprecedented five straight FIFA World Player of the Year awards.
Dubbed “Pele in skirts,” Marta scored seven goals at the 2007 World Cup in China, but Brazil finished as runners-up in the tournament after falling to Germany 2-0 in the final.
With Marta, the Brazilians have won the silver medal at both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. Her duel with Solo in the final at the Beijing Games was considered epic. Carli Lloyd scored the game-winner in extra time for the Americans, but it was Solo that fended off a point-blank shot from Marta in the 72nd minute.
One of their biggest showdowns came at the 2011 World Cup in Germany. Solo came out the victor on penalty kicks after a dramatic 2-2 draw. Marta had both goals for Brazil, including a controversial penalty kick, but Solo was able to stop Daiane in the shootout. The Americans would go on to the final.
“With Marta you have to have a little extra attention to her, even though our team defense is really good and really organized. That's a compliment to her,” Solo said Monday. “I have played for coaches in the past who thought we could just play our style of soccer against Marta, and we've been punished for it. So I'm very aware that we have to pay extra attention to her.”
Marta has scored 104 goals in 105 international appearances. She has the most World Cup goals with 15. She has 10 Olympic goals, tying her for third on the career list with Abby Wambach.
But what Marta doesn't have in her storied career is a major international title.
Given the struggles on the men's side, the Brazilians seem to be pinning their hopes on Marta and her teammates at the Olympics.
Neymar was taunted by fans chanting “Marta!” in a 0-0 draw against Iraq on Sunday at Mane Garrincha Stadium in Brasilia. Brazil also played to a scoreless draw with South Africa in the opener and next face Denmark on Wednesday.
Men's coach Rogerio Micale said despite the teasing from the fans, the team was proud of its women's side and the other No. 10.
For her part, Marta brushed off any comparison to her famous male counterpart. Her focus is elsewhere.
“This comparison we leave to the fans,” Marta said. “We all cheer for the men's team and we know that they cheer for us.”