Brazil’s Marta makes mark on World Cup with goals

Posted July 03, 2011, at 6 p.m.

AUGSBURG, Germany — Marta made the World Cup tournament her own for a day, scoring two goals and assisting on another to lead Brazil into the quarterfinals with a 3-0 win over Norway on Sunday.

The biggest star of the women’s game brought samba heat to the rain-swept, 55-degree Wolfsburg stadium with stunning moves, speed, vision, finishing and even some rough play. The win puts the Brazilians alongside the United States as the biggest favorites for the title based on their play in the first week of competition.

“Thank God, Marta is Brazilian,” coach Kleiton Lima said.

Brazil’s performance took attention away from a huge refereeing blunder in the other Group D game, during which Equatorial Guinea defender Bruna carried the ball in her hands for a couple of seconds in front of her own goal without being penalized. It didn’t hurt Australia, which beat the African rookies 3-2 to maintain its shot at joining Brazil in the next round.

No one seems a match for Brazil in the group, and Marta wants to finally give her nation the biggest cup of all. While the men’s team has won five, the women have done no better than finishing as runners-up.

They are big favorites now to top Group D, an added incentive for the United States to beat or tie with Sweden on Wednesday and avoid having to play Brazil in the quarters.

Marta, the five-time FIFA player of the year, showed off every side of her personality, even the tough part.

She opened Sunday’s one-woman show by shoving Norwegian defender Nora Holstad Berge in the back, but followed with a series of sidesteps that would make even Cristiano Ronaldo proud. Once another defender was down from the blur of moves, she showed how unforgiving she was with a wicked drive inside.

“We had to use our bodies, me and my opponent,” she said of the initial challenge. “I think she stumbled. I would have to see it again.”

After a sullen performance in Brazil’s opener, she was inspired Sunday. If the ball was slippery for the others, it was merely slick for Marta.

Early in the second half, she swerved past four defenders before cherry-picking Rosana to let her drive in the second goal. Marta then capitalized on a Norway error, moving one way across the goal yet striking the ball with the side of her foot to the other to cap a stunning performance.

And her teammates showed enough poise and determination to show that Brazil should be counted on right up to the final weekend.

“We would love to be champions,” Marta said.

They’re hoping to be able to claim for their own one of those famed World Cup-winning stars on the jersey.

Norway, the 1995 champion, was totally outplayed and has sunk below Australia in the Group D standings on goal differential. It means Australia will advance with a tie against Norway in Wednesday’s decisive match.

The refereeing blunder did not affect Australia’s result.

In the 16th minute of that game, a deflection of a shot by Australia’s Leena Khamis hit the post, and as the ball bounced back, Bruna grabbed it with both hands, held it for a couple of seconds and then casually dropped it again. The Australians threw out their arms in amazement when Hungarian referee Gyoengyi Gaal failed to call a penalty.

Since his team won anyhow, Australia coach Tom Sermanni was gracious about it after celebrating the victory.

“I’ll take the referee out of the game. I mean, it’s not just about the referees,” he said.

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