Brazilian striker Cristiane has fond memories of playing for her country’s youth teams. She was only 15-years-old when she represented her nation for the first time, and before too long she was travelling to Canada to compete at the inaugural FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2002.
“We didn’t really know how important that competition was,” she told FIFA.com, recalling a tournament in which Brazil ultimately claimed fourth place. “But it was a great experience. We were a very young group and, as we didn’t feel any pressure, it was just a pure joy to be there. But it was also there that we realised that this is what we wanted to do.”
Fourteen years on, and the striker from Sao Paulo has written her name into the football history books. Cristiane now holds the distinction of being the all-time leading goalscorer at Olympic Football Tournaments, in both the men’s and women’s events. Fittingly enough, it was at a Women’s Olympic Football Tournament that she got her big break. “I went straight from the youth teams to the senior national team when I was 17,” she recalled, “but my big opportunity came a year later, in 2004.
“The coach, Rene Simoes, changed my career in many different ways,” she continued. “In terms of my game, and my discipline, he helped me a lot. He believed in me. He knew that I had talent and he gave me my chance. He took me to the Olympic Games when I was 18, even though he had more experienced players to choose from. An injury to a team-mate gave me an opportunity in the starting eleven, and I took it.”
This is somewhat of an understatement. In addition to winning a silver medal, Cristiane finished as the tournament’s joint top goalscorer, level with Germany’s Birgit Prinz on five goals. “It gave my career a real boost,” acknowledged the striker, who is currently plying her trade at Paris Saint-Germain in France. “Afterwards I began receiving offers of a big contract, and I started to become more well-known. That tournament changed my career.” Before moving to Paris, Cristiane played professionally in Germany, Sweden, USA, Russia and Korea Republic, as well as in her native Brazil.
It was just a pure joy to be there. But it was also there that we realised that this is what we wanted to do.
Having finished second in Athens, she repeated the feat with Brazil at both the FIFA Women’s World Cup China PR 2007 and the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament at Beijing in 2008. However, up until now, that first international title has proved elusive. “I’d like to retire from the national team with an overall winner’s medal, and not just a prize for being the top goalscorer,” she conceded. The sense of anger and frustration is evident in this veteran of two Youth World Cups, four World Cups and four Olympic Games.
With such experience under her belt, Cristiane’s role in the dressing room has naturally evolved. “In the team camps, we try to impress upon the younger players the importance of each competition,” explained the 31-year-old. “On an individual level it gives you great exposure because, if you have a good tournament, there’s a chance that a big club will come calling, that it will open the doors for a contract,” she continued, aware of the difficulties that her compatriots have in making the breakthrough in women’s football.
As for Cristiane, she has realised her dream of making a career out of the sport she loves. Now reaching the autumn of her career, she has already started planning for the future.
“I’m studying, and taking the coaching courses, because I don’t know anything other than football,” she explained. “Everything I’ve experienced on and off the pitch can help me, of course, but I have to learn more, to study. It’s no use being keen if you don’t have the knowledge, because today everything’s so professional and you have to constantly keep up. I plan to specialise in youth teams,” she concluded.
It seems an appropriate choice. After all, that is where it all began for this record-breaking goalscorer, who she is now determined to stay loyal to her roots.