Brazilian Legend Formiga Retires 26 Years After Her International Debut

She's been playing for longer than half of the writing team at The18 has been alive.

Miraildes Maciel Mota is known by most Brazilian soccer fans by her nickname: Formiga, meaning "ant" in Portuguese. It is a testament to her tireless work on the pitch and unselfish play — much like the way an ant contributes to its colony.

"In the beginning I didn’t like it very much,” the Brazilian said of her nickname. “I thought it was weird. You know, like, ‘I don’t have antennae.’ But the more I said I didn’t like it, the more people called me that, and I finally said, ‘I give up, call me Ant.' It turned out to be a perfect nickname because it’s so consistent with the way I play. And now nobody knows my name. Only my family calls me Mira, and the rest of the world calls me Formiga."

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Formiga was born in 1978 during a period when it was illegal for women in Brazil to play soccer — a ban that existed for 40 years. It would be another eight years before Brazil's women's team played its first international fixture.

But like the arthropod she's named after, the midfielder stalwart has been ever-present in Brazil's footballing landscape.

Formiga made her international debut in 1995 — seven years before fellow legend Marta — and she has earned 67 more caps than her Brazilian teammate.

Since the inaugural Women's World Cup in 1991 Formiga has appeared in seven of eight World Cups (all but the first), earning second and third-place finishes for her country.

The 43-year-old midfielder has also played at all seven Summer Olympics in which women's soccer has been contested, guiding Brazil to a pair of silver medals.

During this time, Formiga has played for 14 different clubs across Brazil, the United States and even France. She returned to Brazil earlier this year for her third stint with her childhood club — São Paulo.

Now, after 26 years and 234 international caps, Formiga is officially calling quits on the international circuit. Her final match came in a friendly against India on Nov. 26 and featured a plethora of tributes and emotional moments. 

This is the second time Formiga has retired, as she withdrew from the Brazil squad in 2016 only to be coaxed back in 2018. 

The match was highlighted by a surprise appearance from Formiga's mother — Dana Celeste — who overcame her fear of flying to see her daughter play live for the first time.

"There won't be anyone who can, in fact, replace Formiga," Brazil manager Pia Sundhage said after the match against India. "I don't think there's another Formiga out there."

"Everything was just as I imagined," Formiga said of her curtain call. "I knew these fans would attend, Manaus has always been very affectionate with us and I hope it remains that way. I would like to thank everyone for their efforts and for everything they did to make this a reality today."

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