TEN years ago, just before the London Olympics, I did a radio programme with former England captain Faye White.
We were talking about the women’s football competition, where Great Britain – effectively England with one Scotland player – were to take on Brazil.
Faye White said that she thought Great Britain would win, and I could hardly believe my ears.
For a while Brazil had a claim to be the best team in the world. They had just come up short at big moments, losing in the final of the 2007 World Cup as well as the Olympics of 2004 and 2008.
True, the 2011 World Cup had not gone as planned. Brazil only reached the quarter finals. But there was no great disgrace in going out to the United States, especially on a penalty shoot out.
England had suffered a similar fate at the same stage of the competition, eliminated by France. But surely it seemed a stretch to think that Great Britain could overcome Brazil, with the great Marta, Formiga and Cristiane.
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But Faye White was entirely correct. A then record crowd for a women’s game gathered at Wembley for the match, and I was among them to see Great Britain win a deserved 1-0 victory.
Physically Marta was at her peak. But she was not gliding past opponents as she had done before. The technical and physical level of the game was far higher. The women’s game had developed. But Brazil had not developed with it.
Their earlier success had not been planned. It was the entirely spontaneous appearance of Marta and a pioneering generation who wanted to play football.
Brazil had not built on this, had done next to nothing to put a league or a structure in place, and they had already been overtaken. In the last decade they have not come close to glory in the World Cup or the Olympics.
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In England, meanwhile, the Women’s Super League had been launched and the game was already well on the move – which explains why Faye White’s prediction was accurate.
That continuing process of investment and development paved the way for Sunday’s triumph over Germany in the final of the Euros. And so England are the European champions – and a few hours earlier, Brazil were crowned champions of South America.
This is hardly news. There have been nine versions of the Copa America and Brazil have won eight of them. The overall standard on the continent is improving, but from a low base.
In the history of the World Cup, so far there have only ever been two South American wins by sides other than Brazil. There is no doubt, though, that Brazil are trying to make up for lost time.
They are now investing in their domestic league, and after a predictably disappointing World Cup in 2019 they have brought in a Swedish coach, Pia Sondhage, with a magnificent record in the women’s game.
Her team won the Copa America on Saturday night with a 1-0 win over hosts Colombia, completing a tournament in which they won all their matches without conceding a single goal.
But was this a real test for the more demanding competitions? In warm up matches they lost to both Denmark and Sweden. Some time before next year’s World Cup, there should be a meeting of the two continental champions, England and Brazil.
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In a rapidly developing sport, that should be a good measure of whether these sides are capable of bringing the big prize back next year from Australia and New Zealand.
Perhaps I should ask Fay White for a prediction.
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