Marta leaves the Women’s World Cup with Brazil’s group-stage exit, but her legacy lives on

Before leaving the Women’s World Cup as a player for the sixth and last time, Marta embraced Jamaica captain Khadija “Bunny” Shaw.

The Reggae Girlz had just sent Brazil and Marta home by holding them to a 0-0 draw Wednesday night, and Shaw shared emotional words with one hand resting over her heart and the other holding Marta’s hand.

“I just told her that she’s not just an inspiration for me, but for a lot of young girls in the Caribbean and around the world,” Shaw said.

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With the win, Jamaica became the first Caribbean nation to advance to the Women’s World Cup knockout rounds.

“She just said that she’s watched our journey, ever since we qualified,” Shaw said, “and she credits us because every time we got knocked down, we still get up and keep pushing.”

Marta, 37, holds the record for the most World Cup goals scored, women or men, with 17. She was the first player to score in five consecutive Women’s World Cups, debuting at the 2003 tournament.

“Her legacy continues, it doesn’t end here,” Brazil’s Ary Borges said. Marta “is a woman who will continue to inspire not only my generation, but (new) generations.”

Brazil failed to advance out of the group stage for the first time since 1995, and Marta couldn’t capitalize on the chance to become the first player, woman of man, to score in six World Cups.

But her pending retirement means neither that, nor a Women’s World Cup title, will be a part of her remarkable legacy.

Marta admitted she started getting sentimental as she looked at the moon in Melbourne, trying to summon a way to create or score the goal that Brazil needed to keep progressing at the World Cup. She saw her younger teammates looking for inspiration, and knew she had to dig deep.

“Especially because it was their first World Cup and it’s just the beginning — I won’t play in another World Cup, but they will have other opportunities,” she said. “So I had to stop lamenting. It’s football, we tried from start to finish, we tried to score but the ball didn’t want to go in.”

Marta knows there’ll be critics who’ll have plenty to say about Brazil’s performance here. She’s also reassured there’s enough support for women’s football to keep the game growing.

“Women’s football doesn’t end here. Women’s football in Brazil doesn’t end here,” she said. “We need to understand this.”

On the eve of what became her final World Cup game, Marta shed tears as she recalled what it was like two decades ago when she started out. She feels like she’s leaving it in better shape for the next generation.

“I always said that the World Cup wasn’t just about Marta, the World Cup belonged to the national team,” she said. “We started it together and ended it together. Winning or losing, it makes no difference. I’ll stay with the good times, with the work that’s been done so far.”

The Seleção started off strong in their tournament opener, beating Panama 4-0. They lost to France 2-1, setting up a must-win situation against Jamaica in their Group F finale.

Marta came off the bench in Brazil’s first two group-stage matches but returned to the starting lineup against Jamaica. She was subbed off in the 81st minute, making way for a fresher, younger teammate to take up the challenge.

“She’s a trailblazer for us women,” Jamaica forward Cheyna Matthews said. “I can’t thank her enough. I hate that it had to be this way, but this is what she’s been fighting for, is for us all to be able to play this game and play it well and get the recognition.”

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