FRANKFURT, Germany – Marta, Marta. Most of the talk at the Women's World Cup is about the biggest star on Brazil's high-scoring team.
However, its biggest achievement may be the zero goals conceded.
Third-ranked Brazil is the only team of 16 with a clean sheet at the tournament after group games. The top-ranked U.S. team will need to improve its firepower in the quarterfinal matchup Sunday in Dresden.
''We didn't have to concede a single goal. We are focused and ready to face any opponent,'' Brazil coach Kleiton Lima said. ''I'm particularly happy about our defense. We had some very strong opponents and it worked 100 percent.''
What is even more surprising is that Lima doesn't work with a traditional four-player defense. Three will do.
''It allows us to play a compact and aggressive game,'' said left back Erika. ''Our 3-5-2, opens (up) lots of opportunities.''
Opportunities for midfielders to fall back and cover, while defenders like Erika roam upfield to score spectacular goals, as she did with the opener in a 3-0 victory over Equatorial Guinea on Wednesday to give Brazil three wins to top Group D.
The lineup, based around defenders Erika, captain Aline and Daiane, gives the team composure to build on.
''If we are well positioned on the pitch, we can control the game. We can counterattack. We can strike because we have a clear strategy,'' Lima said.
With Marta under close watch from Equatorial Guinea defender Bruna and others, it opened up space for her teammates. The U.S. team will have to make sure they do not overemphasize the importance of Marta.
''She's a player you've got to be mindful of the entire game. But you can't only pay attention to her,'' U.S. defender Christie Rampone said.
Then again, give Marta a little space and she proves why she is the five-time FIFA world player of the year. Despite the tight marking, she crossed to Christiane to score the second on Wednesday, and won a penalty for the third goal.
''Bruna marked her all the time. I wanted to talk to her, but Bruna was there all the time. I could not even talk to her,'' said Lima, knowing Bruna also speaks Portuguese.
In Brazil, playing the ''beautiful game'' is as important as winning. While the men's team has won a record five World Cups, the women have lost the finals of the last two Olympics and the last World Cup.
So, after three such gut-wrenching losses, pretty play definitely comes second.
''You cannot expect us to put up a show. The point is to win,'' Erika said. So her ball control, tap from the right foot to set up a devastating volley to throw open the game against Equatorial Guinea was just the means to an end.
''We were able to do that in the past, but in the decisive moments we just weren't good enough. Our people tend to criticize us for not putting up a show, for not winning 5-0,'' Erika said. But in the end, ''we didn't win the titles.''
Keeping goalie Andreia from picking the ball out of her net is what it really is about.