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Brazil's Marta has scored more World Cup goals than anyone. Now she hopes to win

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

At the Women's World Cup soccer tournament in Australia and New Zealand, a lot of focus is on the U.S. team and its quest for a record third world title in a row. But Brazilian superstar Marta is also in the spotlight. She's making her sixth, and possibly final, World Cup appearance. And though she's won many trophies in the sport, Marta has not won a World Cup yet. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: You don't have to tell Orlando Pride fans how great Marta is.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Marta.

KAHN: They've treasured her since the NWSL franchise signed her six years ago. Brazilian expats like Bruna Palma were out in full force at a recent home game.

BRUNA PALMA: It's really fantastic. We came from Brazil. It's really hard to get here. We're very proud of her, so that's why we cheer for her.

KAHN: Yeah, they cheered.

(CHEERING)

KAHN: Especially when she effortlessly tapped the penalty kick over the head of the goalie to tie the game.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Who do we love?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Orlando. (Singing in Portuguese).

KAHN: The Pride went on to lose 2-1. But fan Kate Neal says signing Marta was epic.

KATE NEAL: She brought something we weren't expecting and - besides experience, it's is also Marta. She's brilliant.

KAHN: Marta Vieira da Silva has been named FIFA's World Player of the Year six times. She has two Olympic medals, and she holds the record for most World Cup goals, man or woman. Now 37, she says this will be her last World Cup, the only major prize not on her list.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: (Speaking Portuguese).

MARTA: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: Asked recently by Brazil's Sport TV what a sixth World Cup means, Marta says it's the pinnacle of a lifetime's work achieved with great teammates, love and affection.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARTA: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: Born just years after Brazil lifted its ban against women playing soccer, Marta grew up playing with boys. She was bullied by many but outplayed most. At 14, she boarded a bus out of her dusty, impoverished town in Brazil's northeast for a chance to join an all-female team. Within a few years, she was playing in Europe and, at 17, scored in her first World Cup. Julia Belas Trinidade is a sports journalist and studies women's soccer.

JULIA BELAS TRINIDADE: She's not only talented, brilliant player, the best we've ever had, but also she has been such an important voice in the women's game.

KAHN: On and off the field, Marta defies typecasts.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR BELL CHIMING)

KAHN: In this ad, she's plugging Avon cosmetics.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARTA: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: Wearing its bright-red lipstick she also sports during matches.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARTA: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: "Women's football is here to stay, so play it like a woman," she hypes. She caused a stir wearing the Avon product during the last World Cup, with talk of violating FIFA's ambush marketing rules. Undeterred, she's most outspoken about Brazil's poor investment for younger generations, a big reason the national women's team long relied on older players.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARTA: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: After the team's disappointing loss to host France last World Cup, her impassioned plea to Brazil's girls went viral.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARTA: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: "Women's football depends on you to survive. Value it," she raged. Fast-forward to this year's World Cup, and progress can be seen in Brazil. The national team is younger, and many play abroad. They also have a female world-class coach, Pia Sundhage, who led the U.S. to two Olympic gold medal wins.

(CHEERING)

KAHN: The team had a triumphant sendoff, trouncing Chile in a friendly before departing for Australia.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in Portuguese).

KAHN: "Marta, Marta, she's the queen of football," the crowd's saying. Thirteen-year-old Vitoria Marinho came with two classmates, both boys. Like Marta 20 years ago, she plays on the boys' team. Her school doesn't have one for girls.

Is that really hard?

VITORIA MARINHO: Yes. It's so different play with boys than play with girls so...

KAHN: She stops mid-sentence as Brazil scores again...

(CHEERING)

KAHN: ...Then picks up in Portuguese.

MARINHO: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: She says, "It's not fair that women's sports still doesn't get the support like the men." The stadium was less than a quarter full. After the game, as Marta was boarding the team bus, I finally get a chance at a quick question.

(Speaking Portuguese).

MARTA: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: "How are you feeling going into your sixth World Cup?" "Feliz, happy," she beams.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Brasilia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.