CARDIFF, Wales (AP) -- After a succession of near misses, London 2012 was supposed to be when Brazil's talented women's soccer team finally got Olympic gold. Instead, defeat to Japan handed them their earliest exit ever from the games.
For Marta, widely regarded as the best player in the women's game, the 2-0 defeat was especially hard. The 26-year-old captain has been at the heart of the team for eight years, during which it has entered most tournaments as favorites but never lifted a trophy.
Marta will be young enough to play in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games in front of home crowds, but she raised doubts over whether she would still be competing.
"God only knows whether I will still be playing then," she said after Friday's defeat.
Marta is not the only player in the squad wondering whether she will play in 2016. For veterans Grazielle, Rosana, Maycon and Andreia, London 2012 was their fourth Olympics. Midfielder Formiga made it five by appearing in the 2012 Games.
"It is vital that we focus on youth development," Marta said. "The care that is given to the senior Brazil team also needs to be applied to the youth teams, so that we can do better in four years."
The players who stopped to talk to the media after the match - and the coach - felt Brazil should have won the game.
While the South Americans enjoyed 64 percent possession, they didn't create many more chances than the world champions, who passed the ball quickly and defended well against a taller and stronger team. In the second half, Brazil's feared strikers managed three shots on goal, only one more than Japan.
Brazil's form in the group stage was also mixed. After demolishing Cameroon 5-0 in the opener, Brazil struggled to beat New Zealand 1-0, then got beaten by Britain, which itself was knocked out of the competition Saturday by Canada.
"It was not the result I was expecting, and nor was it fair. We played better than Japan," Marta said. "We played very well. We just had to score the first goal - that would have made all the difference."
At the 2007 World Cup in China, Brazil played well and seemed poised for its first title, but was stopped by Germany in the final, losing 2-0. It came in third at the 1999 World Cup in the United States.
Until London, the team's Olympic record was also studded with near misses. It reached the final at the 2004 Athens Games and the 2008 Beijing Games, but lost both times to the United States in tight contests. Brazil was fourth in 1996 and 2000.
Striker Christiane said Japan took the women's game more seriously.
"The problem in our country is that people don't understand women's football," she said. "We don't have the long-term projects as they do in Japan."
Erika, too, felt it was a tough loss for Brazil.
"It hurts a lot more when you know you've played a great match, especially in the first half when we dominated them for 20 minutes," she said. "We played better today, and it hurts a lot more when you play a good match and still lose."
Coach Jorge Barcellos was already thinking of 2016.
"We will have to work a lot during the next four years before 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. We want to get the title there because we have never had it before," he said. "There would be perfect."