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By ESPN Staff

Cristiane overshadowed but not overlooked

SHANGHAI, China -- If ever a ball carried a personal statement as it streaked past a helpless goalkeeper and pulled taut the twine at the back of the net, it was this one.

Staring down six opponents as time ticked away in the second half of a game in which Brazil had squandered a 2-0 lead and now found itself level against an upstart Australian team, Brazilian striker Cristiane let loose with a shot that threaded its way through the defense and found the back of the net from 20 meters, sending her team through to a semifinal showdown against the United States.

For once, all eyes in a stadium were on Cristiane, and she made sure every pair of them remembered what they saw.

The memorable goal against Australia in the quarterfinal was Cristiane's fourth in four games, tying her with five other players, including Abby Wambach and Brigit Prinz, for the second-most prolific scoring output of the tournament through the quarterfinals.

Of course, even on that prestigious list, Cristiane ceded top billing to her teammate, Marta, whose five goals earned a share of the tournament lead with Norway's Ragnhild Gulbrandsen.

Like Ben and Jerry or Simon and Garfunkel, Marta and Cristiane form a classic partnership that gives the Brazilians their offensive pace. But unlike Abby Wambach and Kristine Lilly, the American duo they'll square off against Thursday in Hangzhou, it's not perceived as a partnership of equals. The 2006 FIFA Player of the Year, Marta has 45 goals in 43 international appearances. In women's soccer, she is the chosen one.

Cristiane is the other one.

Not that those preparing to play against her fall victim to the same trap.

"I think Cristiane is playing very, very well," U.S. coach Greg Ryan said. "I thought she had a much bigger role in the Australia game than Marta did. They both are very, very talented, dangerous players, so I don't think you can lose track of one and focus on the other one, or you're in trouble."

Separated in age by less than a year (Marta is younger by nine months), the two Brazilians inevitably will be measured against each other, and Cristiane, despite 22 goals in 35 international appearances, may always come out as the Pippen to Marta's Jordan.

"Marta does have great people around her, and they're making her good," said U.S. national team member Heather O'Reilly, who was on hand at the Under-19 World Championships in Canada in 2002 when Marta and Cristiane burst on the scene. "One player can't do it by herself."

And their chronological proximity is also part of what makes it such an effective pairing. The Brazilian national team is an almost nonexistent entity in non-World Cup and non-Olympic years, leaving players to fend for themselves at the club level. Marta plays for Umea in Sweden, while Cristiane plays for Wolfsburg in Germany; other teammates are scattered across the globe from France to Japan.

The Brazilians all play football, but they rarely play together, a fact of life that is sometimes readily apparent for a national side that draws fans in with dazzling individual skill and often breaks their hearts with disorganization and discord.

But even at an age that would make them two of the youngest players on the American team (only Stephanie Lopez is younger), Marta and Cristiane have played together far more often than many of their teammates. From the 2002 tournament in Canada to the same event two years later in Thailand, and through the 2003 World Cup and 2004 Olympics, Marta and Cristiane have been paired at the forefront of the Brazilian attack on a regular basis since they were 16 and 17 years old, respectively.

Watch them sense where the other is on the field and make their runs accordingly, and you see a chemistry that goes beyond words or gestures. It's a telepathy the Brazilians have put to good use in China.

"They're playing them pretty far apart on the field," Ryan said. "What they do is they spread the defense out, so you have to deal with one of them on this side and one of them on the other side. ... Now you've got two exceptional players playing 35-40 yards apart and it's like, 'OK, which side are we going to defend on?'"

No matter how much more attention Marta receives, it's not an easy choice.

Graham Hays is a regular contributor to's soccer coverage. E-mail him at