On Sunday, Brazil’s women’s soccer team thrashed Sweden 5-1 in its second Olympic game – and Brazilian fans in the crowd broke out a new and heretical chant: “Marta is better than Neymar!”
They were invoking the Brazilian captain Marta Vieira da Silva (known universally here just as Marta), widely considered the best female player in the world, and comparing her to the captain of the men’s side, Neymar da Silva Santos Jr. He, of course, goes by just Neymar, and vies for the title of best male player in the game.
That chant, and headlines the next morning calling Marta “the female Neymar,” were intended as high praise. She played a gorgeous game and her team won, while Neymar and the men’s team had played to a humiliating draw against weak South Africa in its Olympic opener.
Neymar led his team back onto the field on Monday to face Iraq, possibly the worst team in the tournament. That game also ended in a draw, 0-0. Plenty of fans booed – but others had a new, and even simpler, chant: “Mar-ta! Mar-ta!” Take your multimillion-dollar contracts and your endorsements and go one back to Barcelona, the fans seemed to say to Neymar: This country has a new hero now.
The failure of the men’s side, and the glorious soccer played by the women – this is the Olympic story Brazilians are talking about. The feverish debate and the disparity between the two teams suggest that this may be the moment when women’s soccer, maybe even all women’s sports, finally break through here.