July 10, 2011
By Charles Cuttone
It’s not always the best teams, with the best players, with the most skill, that win. Sometimes it requires guts, persistence, a little luck and a player that can pick up the team and almost singlehandedly will them to victory.
The United States Women got all that and more in Sunday’s stunning, improbable comeback win over Brazil.
Based on the way the U.S. has played of late, and their performance in the final group game against Sweden, they were decided underdogs against Brazil, who have the greatest player in the world.
That didn’t matter on Sunday, despite Marta scoring two goals, one on a bogus re-take and one with typical Brazilliance.
What mattered Sunday was the U.S., playing shorthanded for 55 minutes after a red card that should never have been, showed guts, determination, and an incredible amount of fitness and preparation. But what put them over the top was the indomitable will of Abby Wambach, who simply refused to lose.
You would think that, with all that was against them, and going down a goal in extra time, that the U.S. was finished. Most of the soccer-watching world would have agreed.
But the players on the field refused to believe it. While many of the Brazilians were sucking wind in the extra time, the U.S. continued to press the attack.
After a disgraceful display of gamesmanship and lack of sportsmanship by Brazil’s Erika, who faked an injury at the end of the second overtime, only to spring up off the stretcher ready to go back in after killing almost four minutes, the U.S. managed to squeeze the most out of the time they had left.
The players knew the time was running out. Several times American players could be seen motioning for referee Jacqui Melksham to add more time to the clock. Melksham had already made hash of the game, calling a penalty and issuing a red card to Rachel Buehler in the 65th minute after she got tangled up with Marta. There should not have been a call at all. Then, when Hope Solo saved Cristiane’s penalty kick, Melksham added insult to the injury by requiring the pk be taken again because a U.S. player had encroached into the far side of the penalty area. As if that wasn’t enough, the ref then gave Solo a yellow card for dissent.
So, for much of the game, the U.S. had two sets of shirts against them, the canary-clad Brazilians and the powder-blue clad officials.
But it didn’t matter. In the end, nothing mattered but the win. Wambach made sure of it. Several times, the U.S.’s active scoring leader has said she would be devastated to go through her career without winning a World Cup, even though she has not been the same dominant player she once was, ever since breaking her leg on the eve of the 2008 Olympics.
That didn’t matter either. She was determined the U.S. was going to win, and on this day, the anniversary of the epic penalty kick win over China to capture the 1999 World Cup, Wambach’s stoppage-time header that sent the game to penalty kicks was all the U.S. needed.