If the France versus England game on Saturday had everything, this game had more. The United States put on a supreme display of balanced defensive and offensive soccer to overcome one of the most individually talented teams on the planet, a second-half red card, and one of the worst refereeing displays the World Cup has seen.
The U.S. wasted no time out of the gate, putting the strange, 3-woman, sweeper defense of Brazil under immediate pressure and it yielded results within the first two minutes. Shannon Boxx, blitzed down the left hand side after a brilliant dummy by Wambach and provided and positively lethal ball into Andreia’s 6-yard box and all Brazil could manage was for Diane to miss kick and steer the ball into her own net. The women in USA jerseys had a dream start and Brazil were rattled.
The U.S. had another chance on 12′ with Wambach rising to head on goal but the punch-happy Andreia deflected it just wide.
Both sides looked equal throughout the first half with the U.S. shutting down Marta, who picked up a yellow card for dissent after Aline was shown the same card for a dangerous tackle. The U.S. defended well and took their one goal advantage into the locker room.
On 55 minutes Pia Sundhage made a straight switch, bringing on Megan Rapinoe for Lauren Cheney, who had failed to perform as well as she did in the last match.
But the drama of this contest was just beginning to unfold because on 65 minutes, Rachel Buehler was sent off following a questionable decision in the box by the referee. Marta had played a beautiful touch over the heads of two defenders, then leapt along with Buehler for the second ball. While they were walking away from the play the center referee dismissed the American defender for apparently pulling down the Brazilian #10. Hope Solo, as she so often does, stepped into the spotlight and saved the penalty smashed to her left by Cristiane.
The referee however felt she needed more attention and disallowed that penalty for some reason, and on the second attempt, Solo could do nothing as Marta slotted home. It seemed a triple insult now as the U.S. were playing with 10 women, and a saved penalty was now the goal that drew the Brazil jersey clad ladies level.
Brazil failed to take advantage of their numerical superiority however and the sides could not be separated at the end of normal time. After the kick off in extra time Brazil gave the U.S. a taste of their own medicine and scored early. Marta finished with the deftest of touches over Solo into the corner of the net from a very tight angle to drive the dagger home. Now the U.S. had their backs against the wall and started throwing players forward anxiously.
After playing for more than 55 minutes with only 10 on the pitch, the U.S. ladies did the unthinkable and scored the leveler in the final minute of stoppage time of the final half of extra time. Perhaps it’s their new black widow soccer jerseys, but the U.S. never gave up. Abby Wambach, the emotional heart of the team rose at the back post to nod home a superb cross from he substitute Megan Rapinoe, who had been playing very poorly up until that moment.
Neutral viewers had to feel that the U.S. had all the momentum now and the story of the penalty kick round should not surprise you: the U.S. ladies finished coolly from the spot and Hope Solo made an immense save with her strong right hand to push the United States women into the semifinal round in historic fashion.
Written by: Tom Yonker, USWNT correspondent, soccerprose.com
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