I had the times wrong for the games on Sunday, thinking the United States and Brazil would play at noon. I was scanning espn.com to see the score for the early game and saw that Sweden had already crushed Australia 3-1 and the U.S. was ahead 1-0 against Brazil at the half. So I scooted on down to La Estrellita to watch the second half.
Walking the few blocks, I had these strange feelings. I didn't really know who I was rooting for. I wanted to see the United States get through, but I also wanted to see some flashes of brilliance from Marta, the 25 year old Brazilian superstar who is the best female player in the world right now. (The Brazilian men are in the Copa America, playing listlessly. They were behind 2-1 in the second half against the never awe inspiring Paraguayans when the Brazilian fans began the chant "We want Marta! We want Marta!", though in Portuguese of course. The Brazilian Federico Chaves Gueves took this as a personal challenge and scored the tying goal in the 89th minute.)
Well, I got both the things I wanted. The Brazilians began attacking with better passes and plays, and Marta was brought down in the box for a penalty. Both players were tugging and struggling, but the ref called it on the American Rachel Beuhler and gave her a red card.
The Brazilian coach decided Christiane should take the penalty, and that might have been a mistake. Hope Solo made a spectacular save and the Americans were still in the lead. But the ref called for do-over. The announcers didn't know why and assumed the ref had called Solo for moving off the line before the shot, but instead an American stepped into the 18 yard box a little early, which technically is infringement but in practice is rarely called.
Being a sports fan is sometimes a trip down memory lane. It felt like the famous end of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Olympic basketball game, where the last few seconds were played several times until the Russians got a chance to win, and then it was over.
On the re-shoot, it was Marta. There was no magical save. U.S. 1, Brazil 1. The Yanks would have only ten players on the field for the last twenty two minutes of the second half, and if it was still tied, they would play one down for another half hour.
The Americans hung tough, but several calls by the ref went the other way. The game did go into extra time, and I got to see a true flash of Marta brilliance. Closely marked and at a bad angle, she toe volleyed a ball out of the air, popping it up gently into the far corner of the net where it could not be reached. Earlier on the play, the woman who passed it to Marta appeared to be offside, but there was no call. It was ten on twelve, the twelfth opponent being the ref herself. Brazil 2, U.S. 1.
And so it stayed. For a man down, the U.S, was not playing a wait and see game, but instead running hard and setting up opportunities. The game was winding down and a Brazilian player fell to the ground, hoping one guesses to use up some clock. When she was finally escorted from the field, the game went into extra time. Three minutes away from elimination.
(photo by Petr David Josek/Associated Press)
And then the miracle goal. It was not a super pretty flash of brilliance like Marta might do, it was just what a better conditioned team can do against a team who is not as well prepared. Rapinoe sent a long cross into the box for Abby Wambach, much taller than her marking player. The Brazilian goalie Andreia didn't clear it and Abby put it right on her forehead into the back of the net. 2-2 and we go to penalty kicks.
You never know when it goes to PKs, but if foreshadowing means anything, you had a very strong hunch. Hope Solo looked great all game and Andreia looked shaky several times. Hope stopped an early attempt by Diaine, who in the first half scored an own goal when trying to clear a cross, so she got to be the double goat.
(Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
When it was over, the American squad was all smiles. It could be argued they will not play a team as tough as Brazil in the rest of the tournament, but this has been a very strange set of games. They play France on Wednesday and if they pull that off, they face the winner of Sweden-Japan, two good teams that are also over-achieving at the moment. The Yanks should beat the French, but in this tournament, there has been a whole lot of should that has turned into shit.