Sissi: The Brazilian who defied a dictatorship to become a World Cup great

    Sissi was joint-top scorer at the 1999 Women's World Cup

    (CNN)The rebellious often change the world. Defiant, unwavering, they are the sort who don't give up. They break with the norm and leave their mark on history, inspiring and clearing the path for the generations that follow.

    When Sisleide do Amor Lima would join the boys in her neighborhood for a kickabout on the streets, even aged six she knew it was illegal for females to play football. But she did not care.
    Sometimes her mother would drag her away by the ear, reminding her single-minded daughter that there was no future in Brazil for girls who wanted to play the beautiful game. That's just the way things were.
      "I'm going to prove you wrong," Sissi, as she would more affectionately become known to the world, would boldly retort during the long march home, the boys continuing to play on in the background. "I'm going to play for the national team."

        There were times I had to pretend to be a boy. I knew there was a law, that we had a President who said girls shouldn't be playing soccer. I ignored it.

        But, at the time, there was no Brazilian national football team for women. In 1941, as women's football was growing in popularity, the Brazilian government pushed through a decree that said females "will not be allowed to practice sports incompatible with the conditions of their nature." It meant women were banned from playing football, rugby, water polo and various track and field events. Brazil's military dictatorship would affirm the ruling when it came into power over two decades later.
        Under such circumstances, it was perhaps understandable that Sissi's father dreamed only for his son, Paulo, to become a professional footballer. With misogyny as much a fabric of Brazilian society as football, how could he have contemplated that it would be his daughter who would become one of the greats of the game?
        The young Sissi would watch father and son kicking the ball back and forth on the dusty streets, pretending to score goals for their beloved Brazil. It was here, "in the middle of the jungle" as she describes her hometown, observing the father she loved to impress, that the beautiful game captured her heart.
        Football's virtue is that it can be played anywhere, and not necessarily with a ball.
        While in the 16th century the English would kick around an inflated pig's bladder, a six-year-old Sissi used a doll's head. So good did she become, fights would break out between boys over whose team she could play for.
        "The boys accepted me," Sissi, speaking from her Californian home, tells CNN Sport.
        "There were times I had to pretend to be a boy. I knew there was a law, that we had a President who said girls shouldn't be playing soccer. I ignored it.
        "I was in the middle of nowhere -- who's going to know I was playing soccer with a bunch of boys? There were times I got into a lot of trouble. The parents were like 'what is she doing?' but I didn't care."
        Sissi (squatting, first from left to right) with her São Paulo Futebol Clube women's team in 1997. This picture is from the Brazilian Football Museum archives.
        The prohibition ended in 1979 after leading figures in Brazil's feminist movement joined forces during the country's political awakening. The National Sports Council saddled players with rules like shorter game times and full-body protection, while women were not allowed to swap jerseys after matches but, nevertheless, the game grew.
        By now, Sissi's father had started a new job in the city and would return with tales of a women's team in Rio de Janeiro. Emboldened and inspired, the 14-year-old begged to be allowed to leave home to play for a team in Feira de Santanta, he second-most populous city in her state and a three-hour drive from her hometown.
        "Scared," is how Sissi describes her mother's initial reaction. "But my dad was the one who said, 'this girl was born with a gift so let her go.' My mum was good at making sure I'd be a strong woman."
        As the youngest living with 10 other hopefuls, there were many adjustments to be made in the city, but Sissi's rise was rapid. Within three years the playmaker had moved to Salvador to play for a club that was paying her just enough to get by and had been invited to train with the national team.
        But for the-then 17-year-old to train with Brazil's new women's team, parental consent had to be given. It was time for mum to be cajoled once again, something the indefatigable teenager was turning into an art form.
        Sissi (squatting, third from right to left) in the Saad Esporte Clube team in 1998. This picture is from the Brazilian Football Museum archives.
        "Because I was under age you had to have permission from your parents to be able to travel," she explains, retelling an old tale ebulliently.
        "My dad was away working. There was no way he could come back and I needed both their signatures. I remember my mum saying, 'what am I going to do?' and I said 'I don't care, you have to find a way to sign my dad's name because I need to go. You have to fake his signature.'"

        Putting on that jersey for the first time, I was crying like a baby.

        Her obstinacy paid off. Sissi trained with the national team but it would be four years later, at FIFA's first invitational tournament for women hosted by China in 1988, that the player who would become known as the "Queen of Brazilian football" made her international debut.
        There was no talk of tactics or analysis, Sissi recalls, nor any focus on fitness. The first women to represent Brazil in the country's national game relied on their natural talent, of which they had plenty.
        "We looked like dogs," Sissi jokes, referring to the ill-fitting kit the team wore for the 12-team competition.
        For a number of reasons, her first trip to China was memorable. It was the first time she had traveled on a plane, while the political climate of the time meant the team was accompanied by security wherever it went. "It was definitely different," says Sissi, laughing.
        But the memory she cherishes the most is of those moments in the dressing room before her debut when she was given the No.10 shirt, becoming the first woman to wear the iconic number made famous by three-time World Cup winner Pele.
        Another picture from the Brazilian Football Museum archives. Sissi with the Brazilian national team in 1997.