Every World Cup brings the curtain down on great careers, or at least their World Cup chapters. At this year’s Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, it is the turn of Marta (Brazil), Christine Sinclair (Canada), Megan Rapinoe (US), Estefania Banini (Argentina) and Caroline Seger (Sweden) to bow out.
Fans as well as peers will feel a pang when these legends, who played a part in making women’s football an exciting sport, and in speaking up on various issues such as equal pay and gender and LGBTQ rights, exit the stage.
“It's emotional. Those are some of the greatest football players of all time, players that I've looked up to,” said a moist-eyed United States captain Lindsey Horan. “Pinoe, Sinc, both of them I got to play with. Marta, one of the GOATs. It's hard as a football player to see these guys exiting like this, but look at how much they did for women's football. Them on the field, their character, everything. They're the reason we're all here today.”
Marta, 37, was emotional too, but looked ahead to the future generation.
“Women's football doesn't end here. Women's football in Brazil doesn't end here. We need to understand this,” she said after Brazil’s failed to progress to the last 16 for the first time in 28 years.
Marta learned the game playing with boys on the streets of Dois Riachos and came to be called ‘Pele in Skirts’ by none other than Pele.
Marta is a record six-time winner of the FIFA Women's Player Of The Year Award and has netted 115 goals for Brazil, of which 17 were at the World Cup.
The 38-year-old Rapinoe, with her dyed hair and bold stance on issues, along with her footballing talent, is one of the most distinctive figures in sport. She successfully fought for equal pay in US football. She is a winner of two World Cup titles, Olympic gold and bronze medals, and the Ballon d'Or and Fifa Best Player awards. Rapinoe’s social justice work earned her the US’ highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“This group was so very special, and I'm immensely proud of every single one of us,” Rapinoe said in her farewell message on Instagram. "This team is in special hands as I walk away, just like it always was, and always will be. Because that is what this team is all about. We lay it out on the line every single time. Fighting with everything that we have, for everything we deserve, for every person we possibly can.”
The 40-year-old Sinclair is a favourite trivia question. She is the world’s highest international goal-scorer, male or female, with 190 strikes. She may play on but this is her last World Cup.
However, her and Canada’s World Cup campaign has been compromised by a contract dispute between the players and Canada Soccer (CS). After they were bundled out in the group stage, Sinclair appealed to CS to support the team.
“I think more of it is like a wake-up call for our federation — the lack of a professional league, the lack of support for our youth national teams," she said. "I think you're just going to continue to see teams reach our level, surpass us, whatever you want to call it, if things don't change.”
The 38-year-old Seger, playing with an injured calf, at least has the satisfaction of having made the quarterfinals with the Swedish team. They will play Japan on Friday for a place in the semis.
“For me to be here with this national team and trying to do that [win the title], it's my last chance. I mean, I'm not going to play any more World Cups so for me that's the end," she said. "To be able to hopefully help the team in every way I can to bring home the gold would be of course a dream come true.”
Seger has played 25 times for her country, a European record, and won two Olympic silver medals.
Argentina’s Banini was inconsolable after Argentina's exit at the World Cup.
“I was able to fulfill what I wanted: play [club football] in the United States, play on a great team and play in a World Cup with the national team, that was my great dream. I'm living what I always dreamed of," Banini said. "I think I achieved everything I fought to improve, and now I have to step aside. I hope they continue fighting for women's football."