For the ages....
I feel sorry for anyone that missed the US/Brazil World Cup match yesterday. It is one of the best games I have ever watched personally. It had everything- drama, questionable reffing (is that really a surprise when FIFA is involved?), tension, excitement, action, and a historic finish. It is even being replayed tonight on ESPN2 at 11:00 PM CST. If you didn't see the game and can't watch tonight or DVR it, I recommend watching the replay on ESPN3. It is truly a must see, with a Landon Donovan like goal in stoppage time of the second half of extra time. Join me after the break for a full recap...
USA Fights Back, Downs Brazil On PKs (via ESPN)
The US got off to a very early start on the score sheet. Just 74 seconds into the game, as the US pushed the ball to the left side of the 18 yard box on the end line, Shannon Boxx crossed the ball in front of goal. Brazilian defender Daiane attempted to clear the ball, but barely nicked it and redirected it into the back of her net for an own goal. It was a huge lift to the US team to get this early lead. Despite that however, the US looked disjointed for most of the 1st half, and were not able to string passes together or create a regular attack. Brazil did not look settled either, but had the better of the passing and possession in the 1st half.
The half would end with the US leading 1-0. Considering Brazil hadn't truly had a golden scoring opportunity yet, US fans were feeling good. Although the match would end with joy for the Americans, the second half would evolve into a classic battle with some bad reffing. Add into that constant complaining by Marta to the referees and Brazil embarrassing themselves by overtly faking injuries, and the stage was set for a classic game to remember. And here's how we got there.
The drama began in the 51st minute. US player Carli Lloyd, who was already on a yellow card, intentionally handled a ball near midfield. Though a majority of the calls would go against the US after this, to be fair Lloyd should have received a second yellow and should have been sent off. Fortunately, the ref was content with just whistling the infraction. We definitely got a break there. At this point in the game, the US was playing back on their heels a bit. They still couldn't put passes and steady attack together. Brazil however was finding their form and starting to attack and pressure the US defense.
And then the game took it's first wild turn. In the 65th minute, 5 time consecutive FIFA player of the year and professional whiner Marta got past a couple of US defenders with some nifty ballwork. As she attacked from the left side of the box, she got tangled up with US defender Rachel Buehler. The ref ruled that Buehler impeded a goal scoring opportunity, giving a straight red to Buehler and awarding a PK to Brazil. And it was a bad call to be honest. Yes, there was contact, but in that situation, in a world cup game, there was not enough to call a foul, let alone a red and a PK. Although Buehler didn't really argue, replays would show that, other than a handful of shirt, there wasn't much else to make a call on. Definitely the second incorrect decision of the game by Australian referee Jacqui Melksham. They mentioned she was a graphic designer by trade, and her bad calls definitely designed a historic match in the end.
Cristiane stepped up to take the PK. And Hope Solo proved why she is the best goalkeeper in the world, reading the shot perfectly while diving to her left to punch the ball away. However, a 3rd baffling, incorrect decision would be made, and at first no one knew what had happened. One moment Solo was celebrating with teammates, and the next moment the referee was deciding that the kick should be retaken and giving Solo a yellow for dissent. Ian Darke and Julie Foudy suspected Solo had been judged to be off her line before the ball was struck, therefore calling for a re-kick. Replays showed Solo did not come out at all, but moved laterally, which is perfectly legal. A blind person couldn't have meissed that call, but somehow they did.
Cristiane made the second PK attempt, and the game was knotted at 1. And cries of FIFA corruption and scandal would arise. A few minutes later, Grant Wahl of SI.com mentioned on his Twitter that the re-kick was possibly rewarded because of encroachment in the box by one of the US players. Later in the game, when the play was shown again, one of the US players did in fact take an early step in the penalty box just before Cristiane struck the ball. However, it was one small step, and in real time it would be hard to even see it. As Ian Darke commented, that happens on almost every PK soccer that he has ever seen. If refs regularly made that call PK's would be re-taken all the time. Brandi Chastain and former USWNT head coach Tony DiCicco (who won the World Cup in 1999 with the US team) said they had never seen that called so tightly. While it can be said they were homers and biased, it was simply another wrong call. If the US player was 3-4 steps in the box, ok. But you can't make a ticky tack call like that, especially in a World Cup quarterfinal.
Oddly enough, the US played their best soccer after the red card. They looked better with 10 on the field than 11. I was a bit surprised to see Brazil lay back a bit. Considering they had the run of play for the whole game up to that point, and that they were pressuring the US heavily at that point, I don't know why they didn't go for the win being up player. Although both teams had some good looks, the 90 minutes would end tied 1-1. The US, despite playing with 10 women, were hanging in the game and really pushing Brazil. And the commentators mentioned multiple times, all correctly, that the US had superior conditioning. The USMNT is known for good conditioning, and the US women showed the same. Brazil was tired, sluggish, and looked like they were struggling to just keep running.
Brazil would strike unexpectedly just 2 minutes into first half stoppage time. Although replays would show that Brazilian player Maurine was offside when she received the ball, she took it near the end line and passed to Marta. Marta, to her credit, created a beautiful flick on goal that hit the far post and bounced in. The Americans look stunned and, despite there being time left, hope began slipping. The US was down a player for almost 30 minutes, and against a very good Brazil team an equalizer was looking unlikely at that point. The US did not give up however, as they continued to push the envelope and keep Brazil on their heels. And the crowd was nearly 100% behind the US by this point. Every time Marta touched the ball, booing, whistling, and cat calls rained down from the crowd. She truly did look shocked. Chants of USA rang around the stadium. It would seem every fan in attendance not cheering for Brazil was going for the US. They were sick of Marta's complaining and the bad calls against the US.
The Americans could not break through with an equalizer, and the first half of stoppage time ended with Brazil ahead 2-1. Tired, weary legs were felt all around, but the US dug down deep to produce a truly memorable finish. The second half of stoppage picked up where the first left off, with the US desperately pushing for the tying goal. Despite the effort, the US just could not find the net. As time ran out on the US and their World Cup hopes were nearly dashed, a truly disgraceful move by the Brazilians would end up giving the US new life. Now, I understand every team tries to waste time late in a game they are ahead in, but Brazilian Erika took it to a whole new level. She collapsed in front of the goal after the ball went out of play, and had to be stretchered off. I kid you not, as soon as the litter was out of the field of play, Erika literally jumped off the stretcher and was running down the sideline. Cristiano Ronaldo would have been proud at the blatant faking of an injury. Replays would show Erika was barely touched. She then walked about 10 yards, looked at the Brazilian keeper, and collapsed on the ground. She would re-enter the game just after she hopped off the stretcher and ran to mid field to be permitted back in the game. The booing rained down on her as everyone wanted to get in on that pathetic display. At least milk the injury for a minute or two. And that's something I don't understand. A ref can give a card for flopping. Obviously the referee didn't know that Erika wasn't actually hurt at first. But when she hops off a stretcher, then come back in without even limping, I think the ref should have carded her right then and there.
And in the end, this waste of time ended up costing Brazil dearly. Due to the injuries, 3 minutes were added on for stoppage time. And it would be all the US needed. In the 122nd minute, just before the US run would seemingly end, Megan Rapinoe dribbled the ball up the left side of the field. Although Abby Wambach did not have the best game, Rapinoe saw her streaking down the right side of the field towards the far post. Rapinoe boomed a perfect cross into the box. It cleared Daiane and the Brazilian keeper, to find Wambach's head. She put the header home just inside the right post and the players, fans, and any US fan watching were going crazy. Ian Darke again uttered his now famous "Oh can you believe this?" line that he also used for Landon Donovan's wonder goal vs. Algeria. The game was tied, it looked like PK's were on the way, and Brazil was totally shell shocked.
Apart from a close call near the end of stoppage time courtesy of Marta, the whistle blew to end 120 minutes of action. It was do or die for both goalkeepers. Shannon Boxx and Cristiane both scored the first kicks for the US and Brazil, respectively. Carli Lloyd and Marta would score the second attempts to knot the PK tally at 2 apiece. And Hope Solo would again rise to the occasion. After Abby Wambach put the US up 3-2, Brazilian Daiane would step to the line. She shot to the low left corner of the goal, but Solo tracked it all the way and got a hand on it to make the save. This time there would be no re-kick, and the US had the better end of the score heading into the 4th round. Megan Rapinoe and Francielle would tally to send the PK's to the 5th round with the US leading 4-3. Ally Krieger stepped up to the spot with a chance to win it for the US. She coolly slotted the ball home in the far, left corner of the net, and a wild celebration ensued. The US had overcome bad calls, a red card, and 55 minutes of playing 10 on 11 vs. Brazil. They had one of the most memorable goals in US women's soccer history, and most importatny, they never quit.
The US will face France in the semifinals Wednesday for a spot in the World Cup championship game. The game is set for 10:30 AM CST on ESPN, ESPN3.com, and Galavision. One interesting note is that today's game took place on the 12th anniversary of the USWNT winning the World Cup in 1999. That game also went to PK's, the US scored on all 5 chances, and US keeper Brianna Scurry saved the 3rd shot attempt, just as Solo did. I guess it was truly meant to be. Just do me a favor. Cheer on the US Wednesday, and watch replays and highlights of today's match. It is something you will always remember.