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Soccer Doyle: Respect Brazil, Spain and their fight for promotion of women’s soccer

If there were to be a theme song for Saturday's match in Montreal between Brazil and Spain it would be Robert Johnson's Love in Vain – "Well, it's hard to tell, it's hard to tell, when all your love's in vain…" The Blues. A timeless song about your love not being reciprocated.

It's a match between two great powers of world soccer. World champions, both. In the men's game, that is. For women's soccer, in both Brazil and Spain, it's substantially, plaintively different.

It's not that nobody cares. Some people do, obviously. But not many.

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The situation is best explained, teased out and underlined with the simplicity of a song. Because it's about complicated issues of gender politics, discrimination, inequity, machismo, tradition and an unmovable status quo. We could be here all day talking about big issues. The song lasts a few minutes and explains it all.

Remarkably, this is Spain's debut at a Women's World Cup. The country where soccer is entrenched, woven into culture, dominant at World Cup and Euro levels for a good part of the past decade, moved very slowly toward accepting that the women's game even exists.

In Brazil, there's acceptance that it exists, but little interest. It's indifference. In Spain there can be hostility. Each country's team at this World Cup has a star player and their stories are similar, with slight but significant differences.

Spain's captain, Verónica Boquete, told the FIFA web site in 2012, "In Spain we're still living with machismo. The worst comments I used to hear came from the mothers of opposition boys. Not from the fathers, but the mothers. They were the most macho of all. Could it be because it was their sons who were being scored against and dribbled around and not their daughters? That's why I believe it's an education problem."

In recent years in Spain, for all the suspicion and resentment, there has evolved a women's league. (Boquete, 28, plays in the German women's league, for Bayern Munich). This is not because of a sea change in attitude or the evaporation of machismo. It's because the big clubs, especially Barcelona, now recognize the value of women's interest in the game, not just as spectators, but as players. It's a smart marketing move.

Barcelona dominates Spain's Primera Division de la Liga de Futbol Femenino. Before this World Cup began, I spoke to Barcelona's representative in Canada (yes, a big internationally renowned club has a representative in Canada), who told me that nine of the players on Spain's team roster are products of Barcelona's training schools and women's team. The club knows where the future narrative goes.

Marta, of Brazil, is a women's soccer superstar, chosen FIFA world player of the year a record five consecutive times, beginning in 2006. She's had an itinerant career, playing for women's clubs in Brazil, the United States and Sweden. In Brazil, if attention is paid to her at all, she is usually tagged with the condescending nickname "Pele con faldas" (Pele with skirts).

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Like Boquete, the 29-year-old Marta Vieira da Silva still talks emphatically about her early experiences of derision and discrimination. Ahead of this tournament she told the BBC World Service, "As I got older and became a teenager there were more people criticizing me. For example, 'This is not a sport for you, go find something else to do in an area for women.'

"I would hear that a lot in my region and it was very hard to find female teams. I would start thinking I would never find somewhere to play but, thanks to God, I never gave up."

In her late teens she played for the women's team of the long-established Vasco da Gama club in Brazil. But funds for the women's team diminished and eventually disappeared, as there were few paying spectators, so she began her journey through multiple countries.

Marta looked to her religious faith for strength. Over the years she has been notoriously wary of her body being sexualized or glamourized to market herself and women's soccer. Verónica Boquete has gone a different route. Just before this tournament she posed for the cover of the glossy magazine of the El Mundo newspaper.

Wearing a white minidress, with a red leather jacket, in red high-heels and with a soccer ball under one arm, Boquete stares at the camera, unsmiling, with a cool hauteur. As an icon of strength and style, she looks stunning. Her cool stare says, "Respect this."

Respect is what both Brazil and Spain deserve. And everyone attending the match or watching on TV needs to know that – respect for these women players who need to know their love for the game is reciprocated and not in vain.

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