Brazil may not have known before, but now they know: Ball don’t lie.
Atrociously bad officiating, a superb effort from Brazilian superstar Marta and exceedingly annoying tactics by pretending-to-be-injured Brazilian players could mess with the score and fool the clock, but in the end, the soccer gods made it all right.
Down by one, a player short and with only seconds remaining on the clock, Team USA looked dead. I'm talking dead, gone and finished. The team that was supposed to dominate this tournament and restore a reign of American control appeared ready to flounder and give in to an inevitable defeat. Only they didn’t.
One of the U.S. team’s most veteran players, Abby Wambach, saw Megan Rapinoe with the ball and time ticking off the clock. Realizing that if she got into the right position, the unshaken pixie substitute would find her, the bruising Wambach scrambled across the field and prepared herself. Via a long cross from Rapinoe, Wambach received the ball in ideal position and nailed a head in the final moment of overtime – tying the score up at 2-2 and sending the game into penalty kicks.
By scoring the latest goal in World Cup history, it was a remarkable way to end what had become one of the worst slumps of Wambach’s career.
Then in penalty kicks -- as she had many times before -- goalkeeper Hope Solo stepped up in the clutch. As Brazil’s third kicker Daiane stepped up to take her shot, an unmistakable confidence could be felt radiating off Solo. Four years after being benched and ripping her club following a 4-0 loss at the hands of Brazil, Solo was sold as a selfish brat unworthy of representing the country on her jersey. Sunday, however, she was a completely different person. As if she read Daiane’s mind, Solo timed her block perfectly and made the necessary save, allowing Alex Krieger’s shot to ultimately lock down a victory that looked all but out of reach 20 minutes earlier.
Somehow, after everything, the U.S. side managed to outlast both of the other favorites coming into the tournament: Germany and Brazil. Now, as long as they stay out of their own way, this will be recognized as the team to beat.
It was a strange game from the very beginning for the Americans. In the second minute of play -- courtesy of an excellent effort by midfielder Shannon Boxx and an unforgivable mistake by Daiane -- the Brazilians knocked the ball into their own net. Despite the error, however, Brazil showed no sign of quit.
Late in the game, Marta got the ball across midfield and Christie Rampone trailing her. With only Solo to beat, Marta attacked the net and somehow got the ball in with a left-footer high and over the crossbar. Marta’s dominance would continue throughout, but ultimately, it wasn’t enough.
In one of the more controversial moments of the game, U.S. defender Rachel Buehler got red carded after she accidentally took Marta down from behind. As a result of the penalty the Brazilian side got a free kick and the U.S. had to live with the ramifications.
On the subsequent penalty kick, Cristiane seemingly got rejected by Solo only for Brazil to be awarded another kick because of an alleged violation. It was not clear whether Solo moved off the line to early or another player moved into the box before the kick was taken. Brazil, though, was able to capitalize on the redo and played the remainder of the game with an 11 players to 10 advantage. An advantage that didn’t prove to be enough.
The U.S. Team will meet France on Wednesday in the semifinals.