Brazil’s women’s football team was greeted by hundreds of adoring fans in Manaus on Monday, as their performances and fame all of a sudden eclipsed that of their struggling male counterparts.
The women play South Africa in the Olympic tournament on Tuesday, with qualification for the knock-out stage virtually guaranteed after excellent wins over China and Sweden.
Their captain and most influential player, five-time world player of the year Marta, is shaping up to be one of Brazil’s Olympic stars with fans at both men’s and women’s games loudly declaring her superior to men’s captain Neymar.
“Marta is better than Neymar!” chanted crowds at National Stadium on Sunday night after the men’s team failed to score for a second consecutive game.
More than 65,000 fans booed the men’s team off the field following their 0-0 draw with Iraq. They must now beat Denmark in their final group game on Wednesday to have any chance of progressing to the knock-out stages.
Neither the men nor the women have won Olympic gold at football, the game that is by far Brazil’s most popular sport.
The men’s tournament is played by under-23 teams, which can include up to three over-age players.
Brazil called on Neymar and Renato Augusto as two of their three over-age players and also drafted in Gabriel Jesus, who signed for Manchester City last month for a reported £27 million, and Gabriel Barbosa, the Santos striker who is wanted by top Italian clubs.
That forward firepower made them overwhelming favourites but their inability to score has infuriated fans, as has their refusal to explain their sub-standard performances.
The players walked off the field against Iraq and refused to talk to reporters and columnists and commentators have been unusually hostile.
The women, meanwhile, have captured hearts not just with their charm and openness.
They have played the game like Brazilians know it should be played.
“I think the women’s team have played the kind of football that we’ve always admired, while the men have failed to show up,” said Airton Pereira, a fan at the Olympic Park.
Download our mobile app today.