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Black History Month: Formiga, A Eterna

Julian Green’s first touch in a World Cup was the stuff of legends.

China v Brazil: Women’s Football - Olympics: Day -2 Photo by Alex Livesey - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

For any athlete, one of the constant measures of success is longevity. The idea of being at the top of your game for as long as possible is why so many go through such grueling workouts and endless training to hone their talents in an effort to be the best. But very few are truly eternal. Father and Mother Time eventually catches up, and the athlete eventually has to step off the mountaintop.

However, one player truly has redefined longevity and success and has told Mother Time to wait until she says it’s time. And that eternal flame continues to burn ever so bright every single time that Formiga steps onto the field.

Miraildes Maciel Mota, known by all as Formiga, was born in March 1978 in Salvador, Brazil. At that time, it was actually illegal for women to play soccer in Brazil. Still, she started playing the game when she was 12, though she even caught resistance by her own brother when she tried to learn. However, her mother supported Formiga in her endeavors, taking her to play futsal for a local club, Euroexport.

She played so well that she caught the eye of Brazilian national team scouts, who encouraged her to move to a team in São Paulo, where the national team were beginning preparations for the 1996 Olympics. It was as a teenager that she earned the name Formiga, which means “ant” in Portuguese. She earned that because of her unselfish play on the field, which teammates equated to ants working together in a colony to get the job done. She learned a great deal by emulating Dunga, who captained Brazil to victory in the 1994 Men’s World Cup.

She eventually was selected for the 1995 Women’s World Cup squad, debuting there as a 17-year-old. She then was selected to the Brazil squad for the 1996 Olympics, which was the first time women’s football had a tournament there. It was then that she became a regular starter for Brazil’s national team as she was the first to lead a new wave of generational talent on the women’s national team.

Formiga continued to be a force on the national team, helping to lead Brazil to silver medals at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics - both times losing in the final to the United States. She was also part of the Brazil team that advanced to the 2007 Women’s World Cup final, beating the USWNT in the semifinals but eventually falling to Germany in the final.

So many players came and went from the international scene, but Formiga remained, being the constant guide for the team and a role model to so many others. Brazil made the 2011 and 2015 editions of the Women’s World Cup, but were not able to get back to the final. She also continued to participate in the Olympics, that #8 seemingly always in the lineup.

When she stepped foot onto the field at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, she set a record that may never be broken by anyone. It was her 6th consecutive World Cup, breaking a record that was held by Lothar Matthäus, Antonio Carbajal, and Rafael Márquez. She also became the oldest goalscorer in Women’s World Cup history with a goal against South Korea in that tournament.

She then followed it up by appearances in the 2016 Olympics and 2019 Women’s World Cup, becoming the oldest player to compete in a Women’s World Cup at the age of 41.

She rallied to participate at the 2020 Olympics as well to become the only player in soccer history to appear at 7 World Cups and 7 Olympics. To date, she is the only player to appear in every edition of the Olympics in women’s football.

Formiga’s run on the national team came to an end on November 26, 2021, when she played her last match for Brazil in a 6-1 win over India in Manaus. Still, she continues to play on the club level at the age of 44, most recently playing for São Paulo and reportedly being courted by Cruzeiro to play for them this year.

234 caps for the Brazil national team. 29 international goals. 29 professional seasons and counting. She has been playing longer than all but 5 players on Brazil’s SheBelieves Cup roster have been alive. 7 World Cups. 7 Olympics. Her career is one that more people should be including in those legendary discussions. Formiga’s accomplishments continue to build as that eternal flame burns.


For more Black History Month stories, check out our Black History Month hub. We will be bringing stories throughout the month to highlight some of the biggest moments in Black American and world soccer history.