Brazil’s Marta experiment makes little sense


Brazil's Marta (10) celebrates after scoring against South Korea. (Graham Hughes/CP)

MONTREAL—Judging by its 2-0 win over South Korea on Tuesday, Brazil might have little trouble topping its group at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, but without its best player deployed in her best position, it’s unlikely that they will go much further.

Marta Vieira da Silva, simply known as Marta, started on the right side of Brazil’s 4-3-3 attacking triumvirate against Korea. However, in that position she was largely ineffective.

Having to drop deep to cover for overlapping runs from Fabiana at right fullback, Marta didn’t see the ball a whole lot in the first half, and when she did it was in spots along the right-hand touchline, and 30 to 50 yards away from goal.

It’s not to say that Marta can’t excel at dropping deep and delivering a quality pass for teammates making runs in front of her, but she is first and foremost a goal scorer, and a sensational one at that (she now has an outrageous 92 tallies in 93 international appearances). So her involvement shouldn’t be limited to helping initiate attacking manoeuvres in the middle third of the field. Instead, she should mostly be arriving on the end of chances.

With the Koreans showing more adventure in the second half, Marta actually had more of an impact as the game progressed. She coolly scored Brazil’s second goal—she’s now the tournament’s all-time scorer with 15—from the penalty spot and nearly added another minutes later.

But the main difference was Marta and her forward counterparts drifting into the middle to combine. This not only made Marta more dangerous as she could simply turn and run towards goal, it also devastated Korea’s backline—with the back four having to become narrower to cope with more numbers in the middle of the field, this opened up Korea’s wide channels for the Brazilian fullbacks to run into and occupy unopposed.

“In the second half Marta played more in the way that we want her to play, closer to goal,” Brazil coach Vadão said after the game.

Another concern with Marta playing in the wide attacking position is that she will be forced to devote considerable energy to defending. Against South Korea that wasn’t so much the case as Brazil was able to dominate possession. However, against stronger sides there will be the risk of burning her out as she will invariably be forced to track back to defend and then won’t be as sharp once she arrives in opposing territory.

That Marta, as Vadão explained, only arrived towards the end of Brazil’s training camp and is behind in fitness, only makes it all the more imperative for her to play more centrally.

Maybe Brazil won’t win the World Cup, but at the very least, it wants to create some momentum and enthusiasm ahead of next year’s summer Olympics in Brazil.

Putting your most exciting player, one of the most exciting players in the world, in a position where she can really excel would be a good place to start.

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