Even the most cursory of followers would not have failed to be gripped by the epic unfolding yesterday. As the end of extra time approached the USA was in mortal danger of failing to advance past the quarterfinals for the first time leaving Brazil with their first taste of victory in the World Cup over their rivals.
How Abby Wambach summoned all her nerve to power in that header from Megan Rapinoe as extra time winded down to its last moment one will never know. The stage was set for the penalty shootout demanding even more fortitude and courage. Ali Krieger sealed the win as millions watching this match finally exhaled. It was like a beloved soap opera coming to a close with its twists and turns. An emotional rollercoaster that resulted in a happy ending for the USA.
The US got off to a magnificent start first within a minute and a half as Shannon Boxx raced to swipe a ball headed for the endline. The Brazilians were clearly unprepared for the low driving cross that she got off as Daiane fronted her goalie inadvertently for an own goal. The USA were on the frontfoot as Brazil took about 20 minutes to mount their first serious challenge.
The 65th minute was probably the moment Marta's reputation was destroyed. She clearly sold that penalty kick which got Rachel Buehler ejected. Hope Solo was able to save the penalty as one thought justice was done. But the Australian referee Jacqui Melksham spotted an encroachment by a US player and the PK was retaken and this time Marta made no mistake. Solo was also booked for dissent.
The second goal was controversial too but this time Shannon Boxx should have known better to have taken her eye off the marauding Marta out as she appealed for an offside that was not given. That's all the space the Brazilian needed to separate herself for her second goal. She ties Birgit Prinz with 14 goals as the World Cup top scorer. Brazil was up 2-1 in extra time and with the minutes winding down sensing victory till Wambach's miraculous goal in added time. All credit to her and Rapinoe whose head's up play made it all possible.
In the PK shootout, Boxx got things going after a re-take as the Brazilians and the US traded penalties till Daiane, she off the own goal failed to convert as Solo guessed right. It all came to an end as Krieger coolly slotted the ball past Andreia. On a note here, one clearly sees Rapinoe relishing her spot as she positively belts the ball into the net. What a fighter. Another defining moment in so many.
Pia Sundhage after the match:
"I have no words. Phenomenal. The goal and then the PKs. Someone is writing this book. There is something about the American attitude to find a way to win. Unbelievable."
Abby Wambach on her goal and the PK shootout:
"Megan Rapinoe just put that ball on my head. Luckily I didn't miss and the rest is history, I guess. We had the momentum going into penalties. Shannon Boxx being able to re-take that first one obviously gave us a lift. Getting that first goal is huge."
Hope Solo again proving she's the best goalie:
"I was very confident. It's a hard way to win. It's a hard way to lose. You want the better team to win and I think the better team did win, but sometimes it doesn't always go that way. You never know what is going to happen, but I was confident. We've been practicing, we've been looking good in practice. Everybody was pretty much stone cold. We were ice. I felt like we put them away well."
These are the sort of matches that inspire a generation of new footballers. All praise for the US women for continuing to believe in themselves. They picked themselves up after losing Buehler in the 65th minute and falling back after a number of controversial decisions went against them. Wambach proved immense and one hopes that she has effectively silenced her critics. This was also the match that saw Marta tarnished as she showed her less charitable side. She clearly lost the crowd even as the world acknowledges her as arguably the best woman player to have played the sport. To have graced the sport has a completely different descriptive quality. A teary eyed Marta continued to insist that the fans loved her. Her team mate the much victimized Daiane did not talk to the media.
The USA meet a very good French side this Wednesday in the semi-finals while Sweden take on Japan. Wambach's words that she finally does not want to envy those who lift the World Cup might be coming a bit closer to fruition.