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U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM

Sept. 27, 2007
WORLD CLASS MELTDOWN
Just about everything goes wrong as U.S. suffers worst defeat in WWC semi loss, 4-0

By Michael Lewis
BigAppleSoccer.com Editor

Brazil captain Aline can't believe Brazil has just beaten USA 4-0 in Thursday's Women's World Cup semifinal.
Brazil captain Aline can't believe Brazil has just beaten USA 4-0 in Thursday's Women's World Cup semifinal.
Tony Quinn/Icon SMI
Hangzhou, China -- If you needed a worse nightmare scenario for the U.S. Women's National Team in the Women's World Cup, you couldn't find a more devastating one than in their stunning and embarrassing 4-0 semifinals loss to Brazil Thursday night.

Consider the obstacles, most of them, self-inflicted:

* U.S. coach Greg Ryan decided to switch goalkeepers before the game, replacing Hope Solo, who hadn't given up a goal in 300 minutes, for veteran Briana Scurry, who hadn't played a full game in more than three months.

* The Americans gave the Brazilians a gift to start the rout -- an own goal by Leslie Osborne in the 20th minute.

* To make matters even worse, a key midfielder, Shannon Boxx, got red-carded a minute into first-half stoppage, forcing them to play the remaining 45 minutes a player down.

* Before and after that incident the U.S. was outplayed and outhustled as Marta (two goals), Cristiane (one goal), Daniela and company danced through the American defense at will before a crowd of 47,818 at Hangzhou Dragon Stadium.

That all added up was a humiliating defeat, the worst loss in the U.S. women's team's vaunted 22-year history.

"Itís heartbreaking," U.S. striker Abby Wambach said. "Itís a hard loss to swallow."

Team captain Kristine Lilly, who is playing in her final WWC, was just as devastated. The U.S. had entered the match, losing only once to the Brazilians in 22 previous encounters (19-1-2).

"It hurts. It just hurts," said a teary-eyed Lilly.

The defeat snapped a 51-game unbeaten streak that went back to a 3-1 setback to Denmark during the Americans' Olympic victory tour in Philadelphia Nov. 6, 2004 (that loss snapped a 21-game unbeaten streak). The last time the U.S. was shut out was in the 2003 WCC semis, a 3-0 loss to Germany.

Moreover, the match might signal the end of the American dominance at the international level and the beginning of a Brazilian golden era. For years the American women have been compared to the Brazilian men, winning a pair of world championships (1991 and 1999) and two Olympic gold medals (1996 and 2004).

That might not be known until the next major event -- next year's Summer Olympics, which will be hosted by Beijing.

For the second consecutive WWC, the U.S. will play in the third-place match, against Norway Saturday (ESPN2, 4:55 a.m.) while Brazil will vie for its first world title against defending champion Germany (ESPN2, 7:55 a.m.).

Even though it has one game remaining, the Brazilians were in a celebratory mood as they emerged from their locker room and marched through the mixed zone to their own woman-made samba music. Maycon played a drum while one teammate hit a tambourine and a couple of others shook water bottles with rice inside.

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said the federation has done everything possible to keep the women's national side at the forefront of the women's game.

"We havenít let up with the womenís program," he said. "If anything, we have accelerated everything we do with developmental programs and the residency. We are not where we were 10 years ago. Itís not because we are not better; itís because everyone else is rapidly investing in the game. Am I concerned? No. We lost in the World Cup semifinals. Thatís very disappointing, but weíll keep going."

Gulati wouldn't comment on Ryan's future. He said he will sit down with U.S. Soccer secretary general Dan Flynn and Ryan to discuss matters soon.

Gulati probably will talk about some of Ryan's decisions, including the one that made on the eve of the match Wednesday that Scurry would replace Solo.

No one would say it affected the team's psyche or performance, but it had to be a distraction and certainly could not help matters. Scurry, who was used because she had better reflexes and had fared well against Brazil before, hadn't played a full game since a 2-0 victory over Brazil at Giants Stadium June 23.

ďI donít have any regrets about that,Ē Ryan said. ďI think Bri played a great game. Briana, in that situation, gives us the best chance to save that shot because of her quickness and speed. She did everything she could to save that and thereís nothing she could have done by any of the other goals.Ē

The first devastating blow came in the 20th minute when Osborne, who played a key role by shutting down key attacking players for Sweden and England, gave the Brazilians a goal on a silver platter. She headed a Formiga corner kick past Scurry from two yards into the lower left corner.

"I would have gotten it had it gone past her but thatís her area and Leslieís going to try to get that ball no matter what," Scurry said. "Itís my job to call her out of there, but thatís her area so once sheís going, itís tough to get a person to stop.

"If I had come off my line a little more, obviously when I got the touch, it wouldíve gone around the post, but itís tough to say with Marta because she is so skilled, if I hugged the near post she goes far post, if I hugged the far post she goes near.

Osborne was unavailable for comment because she was one of the players selected for post-game drug testing.

Marta, only 21, demonstrated why she was selected 2006 FIFA women's player of the year and the favorite to repeat this year, with the first of two dazzling goals. She worked her way into the top right of the penalty area and fired a low shot that went in off Scurry's gloves into the lower right corner for a two-goal advantage in the 27th minute.

"When you go down a man against a team as good as Brazil, they are going to take advantage of you in the moments you are getting forward," said Wambach, who had no dangerous scoring opportunities. "It was a much different game when we had 11 on the field."

Wambach was referring to Boxx receiving her marching orders after she was awarded her second yellow by referee Nicole Petignat (Switzerland) for tripping Cristiane at midfield a minute into first-half stoppage time.

"It changes the whole course of the game," Wambach said. "I am not going to sit here and make excuses because we couldíve come out stronger."

Added Ryan: ďWe had to chase them around the park for (45) minutes with 10 men.Ē

The Americans played catch-up soccer in the second half, which began with midfielder Carli Lloyd subbing for defender Stephanie Lopez in an attempt to inject some spark into a mediocre attack.

They tried to push up, but due to an already questionable possession game and the urgency to score a goal, many of their passes were intercepted and turned into counterattacks.

"We knew what they were going to do," Lilly said. "What happened was we got off what we wanted to do. They were beating us to the ball most of the time and had the momentum going their way.

"Weíre just trying to keep our heads above water and Brazil was a better team today."

The Brazilians all but hammered the final nail in the coffin as Cristiane scored off a counter in the 56th minute.

Marta added a second goal, dancing around U.S. defenders on the left side, including second-half sub Tina Ellertson in the penalty area, and scoring from 10 yards in the 79th minute.

"Tonight we played as a team, and we have not always done that," Brazil coach Jorge Barcellos said. "We have the individual talent and this game was a complete team effort."
   
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