A sly smile crossed the face of Brazilian midfielder Sissi as she attempted to describe the sensation of scoring a goal. It was as if she knew a secret kept from the rest of the world.
"It's impossible to explain," she said. "There's no greater emotion in life than when you score a goal."
In that case, it's safe to say it's been an emotional week for Sissi. She scored a tournament-high six goals in the first round of the 1999 Women's World Cup, and her overall play has propelled Brazil's national team into the championship round.
Sissi will be the player to watch in Wednesday's 9:30 p.m. quarterfinal match against Nigeria at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium (the game follows the 7 p.m. U.S.-Germany quarterfinal). Her trademark close-cropped hair -- in the fashion of Brazilian men's star Ronaldo -- and her brilliant ballhandling will make her easy for spectators to spot.
Sissi also wears Brazil's jersey number 10, sanctified a generation ago by soccer legend Pele. Wearing that number is a privilege beyond compare for any Brazilian player, including Sissi.
"I think that it brings me good vibes," she said. "I often think about [Pele] as I'm wearing it because he's the `King of Soccer,' and it's a huge task to follow in his footsteps."
Like the man who made number 10 famous, Sissi has a demonstrated knack for finding the back of the net. Against Mexico, she scored three times during a 7-1 romp, and scored both goals in a 2-0 defeat of Italy, guaranteeing Brazil a place in the quarterfinals.
Sissi does more than take shots; she also coordinates Brazil's explosive offense. Only after funneling the ball to the attack does she switch from playmaker to finisher, crashing into the penalty area to receive a drop pass or volley a loose ball toward the net.
The left-footed Sissi also takes nearly all of her team's free kicks and corner kicks. Against Germany on Sunday, she scored in the first half on a 28-yard free kick that looped wickedly around the German defensive wall and past goalkeeper Silke Rottenberg. Later, she lofted a free kick into the German penalty area that resulted in a Brazilian goal on the final play of the game, which ended in a 3-3 tie.
The tie with Germany allowed Brazil to finish first in its group -- its best finish in Women's World Cup play. More important, Brazil avoided having to play the United States in a quarterfinal Wednesday night.
"That was probably the most emotional game I've played in a long time," Sissi said, "but we kept our heads together and held our faith and were able to score in the end."
Like her teammates, Sissi -- pronounced see-SEE -- goes by a one-word nickname. Hers is a diminutive of her full name, Sisleide Lima do Amor. She was born in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia, in a small rural town called Esplanada.
Like most of her teammates, she comes from a poor family. She picked up soccer at age 7, playing with other children in her neighborhood.
Sissi is part of the vanguard of athletes who, a decade ago, defied discrimination and survived economic hardship to give women's soccer a firm foothold in Brazil.
During the 1980s, she played for one of Brazil's first professional women's soccer teams, the Rio de Janeiro-based Radar Sport Club. When that team folded in 1990, she moved to Sao Paulo and ever since has competed for clubs in that city, where Brazilian women's soccer has established its strongest base.
Sissi had played for Sao Paulo Soccer Club until late last year, but was dismissed from the team in December. For a while, she suffered a contractual dilemma normally reserved for elite men's players: her player's pass was held by Sao Paulo as it sought about $6,500 in compensation for her transfer to another team. She finally was freed to transfer to Palmeiras, another Sao Paulo club, where she now plays.
Sissi has played on the national team since 1988. She has seen it evolve from a precariously funded, under-supported squad to a unit receiving the full support of the Brazilian soccer federation (CBF) and the endorsement of sports apparel giant Nike, the CBF's chief sponsor.
"I have many memories, even some sad ones," she said of her 11 years with the national team. "But now is perhaps my best moment yet with the national team."
Despite her stellar performance so far in the World Cup, her family back in Bahia has struggled to follow her progress and the team's games, because the tournament has not been broadcast in Brazil, she said.
"It's a source of frustration for us," she said. "But [my family] hears about the results, and when I can, I call to let them know what's happening."
Although, at 32, she is one of the team's oldest players, Sissi betrays no wearing signs of age. Against Germany last Sunday, she played tirelessly despite oppressive heat.
"We have a saying in Brazil, the same as in America, that wine gets better as it ages," she said.
With opposing defenders tightening their marks on her teammate, forward Pretinha, Sissi's offensive abilities will become even more critical to Brazil's success.
The team's performance in this World Cup carries much broader implications for the development of women's soccer in Brazil, which until recently had been either ignored by the Brazilian public or derided by its more conservative detractors.
"It's a surprise to whoever didn't believe in us, but we're going now wherever God will take us," said Sissi.
CAPTION: Sissi, celebrating game-tying goal against Germany with Katia (top), and demonstrating ballhandling skills, leads Brazil into quarterfinal game against Nigeria Thursday at 9:30 p.m. at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium.
CAPTION: Sissi, 32, controlling ball in Germany game, and Brazil will play Nigeria in quarterfinal match Thursday at 9:30 p.m. at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium.
CAPTION: Sissi, right, and Katia celebrate tie vs. Germany: "That was probably the most emotional game I've played in a long time," Sissi said.