[WOMEN'S WORLD CUP] Bizarre refereeing and chaotic conditions could not deter the USA from eliminating Brazil on penalty kicks, 5-3, following an incredible two hours of quarterfinal play in Dresden. The USA pulled out a miraculous victory, playing with 10 women, equalizing 2-2 in stoppage time of the second overtime and then prevailing in a shootout in their Women's World Cup quarterfinal match in Dresden.
As the only heavyweight left standing in this battle, it will be the incredible spirit and determination of the U.S. women that can keep them upright for two more games.
They defied burning lungs, melting legs, and refereeing fiascos to edge past Brazil in the Women’s World Cup quarterfinals in Dresden Sunday with an unswerving resolve to prevail, no matter what. All of their resolve was necessary to overcome a questionable red card and penalty kick re-take that provided Brazil with an equalizing goal and one-player advantage 20 minutes into the second half, and rally ahead when a perhaps offside goal dropped them a goal behind at the start of overtime.
Despite jumping on top in the second minute on a Brazilian own goal, the Americans didn’t play much sharp, confident soccer once given that shock lead. Their attack sputtered, they turned the ball over in bad spots, and often gave it back again after regaining it. But they also blunted and frustrated Brazil’s three-pronged forward line and pulled back outside mids Heather O’Reilly and Lauren Cheney to help close down the flanks. By getting numbers around Marta whenever she got the ball, the Americans denied her those first few quick steps from which she takes flight.
Coach Pia Sundhage had decided not to change her back line, despite some rough stretches for left back Amy LePeilbet and centerback Rachel Buehler. O’Reilly, who sat out the group finale against Sweden because of a groin strain, came back into the team at right mid, and Sundhage again deployed Amy Rodriguez and Abby Wambach up front.
Sundhage had only one central defender – Becky Sauerbrunn – on the bench, and she had yet to play in the tournament. The other two defenders in reserve, Heather Mitts and Stephanie Cox, normally play on the outside. After two clumsy plays by Buehler that gave away a penalty kick and a free kick by which Sweden scored its goals in a 2-1 defeat of the U.S. to conclude group play, suggestions were made that Sauerbrunn replace Buehler.
Instead, Sundhage took up another possibility – to move Rampone from the right central spot to the left position to give LePeilbet more support. Thus right back Ali Kreiger, who had impressed with her steady play during group play, and Rampone would be bracketing Buehler, known more for her strength and toughness than speed.
The plan worked pretty well for more than an hour, and with a gifted 1-0 lead provided in the second minute when a Shannon Boxx cross from the left was scuffed into her own net by Brazilian defendere Daiane, the Americans, though plagued by an egregiously high rate of turnovers, had already been able to frustrate Brazil by getting numbers around the ball to cut off those silky and incisive dribbles and combinations which typifies its game. Only rarely did Brazil conjure up a move like that of Cristiane, who scythed through several Americans with a veering dribble from the left side into the middle that finally broke apart in a tangle at the edge of the penalty area when Boxx’s tackle jarred the ball loose.
For whatever reason, the Americans’ dogged defending appeared to discourage Brazil from turning on the magic when an opportunity beckoned. In the first half, when O’Reilly lost the ball in midfield and Brazil turned it into a counter, Marta raced up the left channel with Christie Rampone on her inside shoulder in pursuit. Rather than juke inside Rampone to find a better shooting position, Marta shot from a bad angle on her preferred left foot and missed the target.
In Brazil’s 3-0 defeat of Norway in the group phase, Marta had opened the scoring by racing past a challenge on a counter, cutting inside another defender, and drilling home a left-footed shot. Led by Rampone’s uncanny instinct of when to step up and when to drop, the Americans were able to use the range and aggression of their midfielders to bottle up Brazil in that space beyond their penalty area.
Only rarely did Brazil stitch together enough passes or launch a splitting through ball that opened a clear path to goal. Hope Solo easily covered the shots that came from distance, though just before Brazil equalized in the second half the U.S. keeper bobbled a Cristiane shot and lunged to smother the loose ball. She also dominated in the air, snagging and repelling the high balls played by talented, frustrated players whose creativity had been sapped by constantly fending off spirited, zealous challenges.
But no effort or tactical system can defy a master like Marta indefinitely, and when she got free on the left flank to lob a ball over Kreiger and Buehler to arrow directly for goal, Marta drew the foul – more or less – she’d been looking for in the 65th minute. More problematic for Sundhage and the Americans came when a red card came out for Buehler, which reduced her to tears and the USA down to 10 players.
Rather than further disrupt the 10 players remaining on the field – since one player would have to be replaced to get Sauerbrunn into the game – she dropped Boxx into the back line, where Boxx could maintain somewhat the central connection with Lloyd that Sundhage has been very reluctant to break up. It also relieved Boxx of the heavy workload demanded of the central mids, both of which are tasked with two-way responsibilities that include tracking and double-teaming when the opponent has the ball.
Sundhage had already replaced Cheney with Megan Rapinoe, whose touches and passes brought and precision and guile to a rather straightforward USA attack. While she lost a few balls in bad spots and wasn’t always up to the task of winning them back, her sharp set plays – Lloyd, in space cleared by Wambach, headed one of her free kicks off the crossbar – and accurate passes provided chances.
Brazil, flustered by barren spells of sporadic possession and limited touches, never stretched out the Americans to fully exploit the numbers advantage. The Americans roused their game for the final 55 minutes and for most of that phase played the more inspired, determined soccer.
Several Americans, including Boxx, hesitated early in overtime when a ball played to Maurine on the left wing appeared to be offside. Marta darted away from Boxx to hit Maurine’s bouncing cross with an incredible first-time flick that nicked the inside of the post on its way into the net. Yet even then, the Americans had a reply, supplied in the second minute of overtime stoppage-time when Rapinoe launched a driven cross from near the left touchline that Wambach, at the edge of the six-yard box, powerfully headed home.
The USA endured a penalty-kick re-take when Andreia moved too soon to repel Boxx’s initial effort. After she converted, the Americans held serve on the next four attempts to cash in Solo’s stop of own-goal scorer Daiane on Brazil’s third attempt.
Such an outcome might have been predicted in the rest period between overtime and penalties. As the Americans huddled excitedly, jumping and jabbering, the Brazilians sat or lay on the grass, stretching their legs, and searching for strength in their psyches they would not find.
The win moved the USA into the semifinals against France Wednesday in Moenchengladbach (kickoff: noon ET).
July 10 in Dresden
USA 2 Brazil 2 (USA wins 5-3 on penalties). Goals: own goal 2, Wambach 120; Marta pen. 68, 92.
USA -- Solo, Krieger, Buehler, Rampone, LePeilbet, O’Reilly (Heath, 108), Boxx, Lloyd, Cheney (Rapinoe, 55), Rodriguez (Morgan, 72), Wambach.
Brazil -- Andreia, Daiane, Aline, Erika, Fabiana, Formiga (Renata Costa, 113), Ester, Maurine, Cristiane, Rosana (Francielle, 85), Marta.
Red Card: USA -- Buehler 65.
Referee: Jacqui Melksham (Australia).
USA: Boxx (goal), Lloyd (goal), Wambach (goal), Rapinoe (goal), Krieger (goal)
BRA: Cristiane (goal), Marta (goal), Daiane (saved), Francielle (goal)
USA wins 5-3.