Brazilians seeking heroes turn to women footballers
While spectators booed the men's team off the field following their latest match, a 0-0 draw Tuesday against Venezuela in the Copa America in the Brazilian town of Salvador, TV viewers were enthralled by the women's 1-0 win against Italy, in Tuesday's Women's World Cup tie in Valenciennes, northern France.
"At least they don't roll around like Neymar," said Wellington Dias, a convert to women's football, in a sly dig at the world's most expensive footballer Neymar, Brazil's former captain who has made an unwelcome name for himself for diving and feigning injury. The men's team messed up their last two World Cup appearances in 2014 and 2018 and have failed to fill stadiums during the current Copa America campaign at home.
They were booed and jeered during their last outing on Tuesday, the goalless draw against a poor Venezuela side, while the women set World Cup dreams alight, winning against a gifted and well-drilled Italy. Das, surrounded by fellow fans at a football fans' bar in downtown Rio, was watching the Italy game and cheering the women on.
"The women are better than the men," he told AFP. "I watch all their matches on TV."
- National Treasure -
Marta, 33, a national treasure unlike the troubled Neymar, fired the winning goal from the penalty spot that put the Brazilains into the last 16 of the French World Cup. The goal was her 17th in World Cup finals, a record for both men and women. She dedicated the score to equality, at a time when women's football is making a breakthrough worldwide and notably in the home of Pele's beautiful game.
The women's match was broadcast live during the working day, competing with popular daytime soaps but still winning a 46% audience share in Rio. The men's game, broadcast in prime time later in the evening, claimed 53%, according to broadcaster Globo TV. The gap is still there but narrowing dramatically. TV audiences watching women's football have grown 151% since the last World Cup in Canada in 2015, according to Konta Ibope, a TV ratings agency.
And for every 60 minutes spent watching matches then, fans are spending 80 minutes now. "The affection, respect and admiration of the fans for the women's team is growing with every competition," Joana Thimoteo, Globo's director for sports events told AFP.
The feelings are reflected in the media, with front pages of key newspapers devoted to Marta and the women's team on Wednesday while the back pages and the scandal sheets are reserved for the men.