By Andrew Downie
SAO PAULO, May 15 (Reuters) - Brazilian midfielder Formiga should be used to the drill of competing in World Cup finals considering she has already appeared in six previous editions.
However, it seems the nerves have kicked in as the 41-year-old prepares to play in a record seventh World Cup when the tournament kicks off in France next month.
"I am anxious, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t, to be 41 and have the possibility of playing in a seventh World Cup," Formiga said recently.
"The excitement is the same as the first time, for sure. And my will to win is the same."
Formiga shares the record of six World Cup appearances with Homare Sawa, the midfielder who captained Japan to victory in 2011.
If she plays, as expected, she will become the first player, man or woman, to appear in seven World Cup finals, FIFA said.
The midfielder was given the nickname Formiga - which means Ant - when she was aged 12 because of the way she covered every inch of the field.
She started playing futsal on dirt pitches in her home state of Bahia when women’s football was a minority sport. However, her talent was evident and the precocious teenager made her Brazil debut in 1995.
Since then Miraildes Maciel Mota, the only girl among six siblings, has been a near constant presence in the national side and an example for her team mates both on and off the field.
She is so well liked in Brazil that she was featured as a cartoon character in the popular comic strip Turma da Monica, or Monica’s Gang - an honor she shares with soccer greats Pele and Ronaldinho.
MOST INTELLIGENT PLAYER
Some fans grumble that Formiga, who quit the national team in 2016 before coming out of retirement last year, has not received the recognition she deserves for her talent and longevity.
Experienced former Jamaica and Costa Rica coach Rene Simoes identified her as the most intelligent player he had ever worked with, male or female.
Brazil coach Vadao said one of his priorities after taking charge of the team in 2017 was to convince Formiga to play in the Copa America, which served as a World Cup qualifying tournament.
"I made every effort to make Formiga come back after she had retired from the national side," he said. "She is a reference to us and there’s no way we could leave her out."
But while she has won two Olympic silver medals and a runners-up medal at the 2007 World Cup, the top prizes have eluded her.
If she finally gets to hold aloft the World Cup trophy on July 7, it would come as a major surprise considering Brazil have lost nine successive games in the run up to the tournament.
However, she told her team mates earlier this year that she would keep on fighting.
"What I most want, and I think everyone knows this, are improvements in our sport so that we can get more respect," she said.
"What we need to do is win an important tournament like the World Cup or the Olympics. We’ve tried many times and never managed it but we’ll keep trying. Never give up."
Brazil face Jamaica in their opening match of the World Cup on June 9 before taking on Australia and Italy in Group C. (Reporting by Andrew Downie, editing by Pritha Sarkar)