SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil had just ended its prohibition on women's soccer when 36-year-old striker Gabriela Zanotti was born. She grew up playing mostly with boys and fully aware that she found very little chance of becoming a professional footballer in a country where top-flight clubs only cared about men.
But Zanotti's great finishing skills allowed her to make a living out of sport since 2011. The pay wasn't anything lavish; it was mostly in the neighborhood of $3,000 a month, if that much. She played many times in empty stadiums, sometimes with more family members than fans on the stands.
Three years ago she decided to join former coach Arthur Elias at Corinthians, a giant in Brazil's men's soccer. And she became a dominant player in the country at the same time the Brazilian soccer confederation ruled that top division clubs had to establish women's teams.
Fast-forward to Wednesday night. Zanotti scored twice before 30,000 raucous fans in the highest attendance ever for women's club soccer in Brazil to give her Corinthians team a 3-1 win against rival Sao Paulo in the second leg of the state championship final.
The aggregate result was 2-2 until the 91st minute, when Adriana netted the winner to complete the team's regional dominance in the year; state, national and continental champions.
Naná scored the only goal of the visitors.
The women's Copa Libertadores title was Corinthians' third since 2017. The Brazilian championship was also the team's third since 2018. And the Sao Paulo state trophy was the third in a row.
South American men's soccer has seen teams dominate that much, like Pelé's Santos or Juan Román Riquelme's Boca Juniors.
But this is a first for women's soccer in South America. Corinthians' women, the first to win a treble in Brazil, have won 10 titles in five years.
“I just knew I was going to score today,” the always confident Zanotti said after the match. “This was a tiring year, but we have it all now.”
The dominance of Corinthians women's team this year started taking shape in September, when they beat archrival Palmeiras 3-1 to win their second consecutive Brazilian championship.
Two months later they beat Colombia's Santa Fé 2-0 in Montevideo to lift the women's Copa Libertadores. The Sao Paulo state championship, though not a national title, represents the team's dominance in the richest local league for women's soccer in Brazil.
Historically, women were not allowed to play professional soccer in Brazil because authorities believed it affected their ability to have children. The Brazilian women's soccer championship has been played for the ninth year, while men's tournament has been on since 1959.
Part of the success of the Corinthians women comes from priority. While players of rival Sao Paulo and many other teams have to share their training infrastructure with academy players, Corinthians has a permanent ground for their women's team to develop.
The team's regional dominance could grow next year. Media reports say Corinthians could bring six-time FIFA player of the year award winner Marta, who is a supporter of the club. But its priority is to extend Zanotti's contract so she can continue leading the team.
“This was a magical night, we made history,” said Adriana. “This ends a magical year for us, but let's not forget that the barriers we face are still high.”
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