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Marta, five times designated by FIFA the world’s best female soccer player, is leading Brazil’s effort to win that country’s first Women’s World Cup.
The Brazilian men’s team has five World Cups to their credit, though things didn’t work out for them last year. One of the most celebrated players on that Brazilian men’s team is Neymar, Jr.
Gwen Oxenham played briefly for a Brazilian professional team called Santos, and she has recently written about the two Brazilian stars — known as "magicians" for their play on the pitch — for the Atlantic. She joined Bill Littlefield.
BL: Neymar, Jr. plays his club soccer for Barcelona. He is one of their most splendidly compensated players. He is paid somewhere over $10 million a year. And Marta?
GO: Well, Marta is struggling to find a team to play on. Since she started her career, seven of the eight teams that she's played on have folded for financial reasons. The fates of Brazil's two magicians have definitely been very different.
BL: Back in 2011 when Neymar and Marta were both playing for Santos FC, Neymar may have cost Marta a job. I'm sure he didn't do it on purpose, but explain, please?
We lived four or five girls to a room, we hitchhiked to practice, we played on fields that we shared with a horse, and we were never allowed to play on the men's field.Gwen Oxenham
BL: Still there has been a kind of progress, certainly, in Brazil. From 1941 until 1979, it was actually against the law for women to play soccer there. How did that restriction come into being?
GO: Actually, it was really interesting. In the early 1900s, women's soccer was spreading like wildfire. Women loved it, and there were teams cropping up everywhere, and so a concerned citizen wrote a letter to the government saying, "This is very alarming and this is dangerous for women's nature." And that letter helped prompt a law that forbade women from playing any sports that run contrary to their feminine nature. And the women that I played with in Santos all grew up playing with guys on the streets. They never played organized soccer until very late in their career, so the women's game basically grew out of nothing.
BL: Tell me a little about your own experience playing professionally in Brazil.
GO: When I played we lived four or five girls to a room, we hitchhiked to practice, we played on fields that we shared with a horse, and we were never allowed to play on the men's field. Our star player had given up soccer twice before because she could make more painting toys at a toy factory in São Paulo. But they loved to play. It's their country's passion, and they want to be a part of it.
BL: Female players in Brazil have certainly been inspired by Marta’s success. But what about the population of the country in general?
GO: Brazilians are iffy about it. There is very much a machismo culture, and when I played in Brazil, the stands were usually empty. However, Brazilians also love magicians, and Marta is definitely that. So it's the first time where their love of magic has sort of overpowered prejudice, and so what Canada offers is a chance to really, hopefully, get their country on board this World Cup.
BL: Brazil did look strong in their opening game against South Korea on Tuesday. But even with Marta, they’re a longshot to beat the strongest teams — Germany and the U.S. among them. But if Brazil did win the Women’s World Cup, what would the impact be back home?
GO: Brazilians want World Cup titles, and if the women manage to finally land that title, it could do huge things for getting the country on board with women's soccer and giving kids a chance to get involved. And make it more like it is in the United States where it's encouraged for girls to play soccer, and the Brazilian players are all very aware of that when they step on the field.
This segment aired on June 13, 2015.