After Wambach's miracle equalizer, U.S. women prevail over Brazil with Solo save, perfect penalty kicks.
By Robert Wagman
(Sunday, July 10, 2011) -- The United States moved into the Women's World Cup semifinals today, eliminating Brazil 5-4 in a penalty-kicks tiebreaker following a 2-2 draw in what perhaps was the greatest World Cup match ever played by the U.S., men or women.
The Americans played a woman down for almost 50 minutes, yet drew level at 2-2 on striker Abby Wambach's header two minutes into four minutes added on to extra time before about 25,000 in Rudolf Harbig Stadium in Dresden, Germany. This was certainly the most extraordinary meeting between the two women's soccer world powers.
'There is something about the American attitude to find a way to win. Unbelievable," said the U.S.'s Swedish coach. "Right now I'm the happiest person on earth."
There were so many important moments over 124 minutes of play, plus the penalty kicks, Wambach's header was probably even more dramatic than U.S. men's midfielder Landon Donovan's famous last-gasp goal against Algeria that advanced the Americans to the Round of 16 at the men's World Cup last summer in South Africa.
"It was a perfect ball," Wambach said, (Reserve midfielder Megan Rapinoe) got an opportunity down the left flank and sent the ball in. It just popped over that defenders' head. I was sitting on that back post. I'm so happy it went in. "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."
With the U.S. leading 1-0 on a second-minute own goal, the game turned in the 66th minute when Brazilian star Marta broke into the penalty area step ahead of defender Rachel Buehler, who stretched her legs out to tackle Marta as she approached the left post. Buehler was ejected on the foul and ejected with a red card.
U.S. keeper Hope Solo went to her right to knock away Cristiane's subsequent penalty kick, but an American was ruled to have encroached into the box before the kick was taken. Under these most questionable of circumstances, Marta then converted her PK to tie the game at 1-1.
"When Rachel Buehler was sent off, I think we started to play," Sundhage said. "It's funny, in the first half we probably got the goal too early because we played too safe and didn't run as much as we could have. We played too direct. When Buehler was sent off, you could see something happened to the team and it was more than a running game and we explored the width.
The U.S. stepped up its game a player down and both teams had chances before the end of regulation time Then, just four minutes into the 30 extra minutes, Marta scored a brilliant goal, reaching her leg around U.S. midfielder Shannon Boxx to flip the ball into the far right corner of the net for a 2-1 advantage.
The remaining minutes of overtime featured a progressively more exhausted Brazil holding off the shorthanded Americans.
The U.S. came out pressuring from the opening whistle and it resulted in an own goal that gave the U.S. the lead after just 74 seconds. The Americans had a few other chances in the first half, but really couldn't muster much in the final third of the field. Brazil came back strongly after about the 20th minute, but the U.S. dropped back quickly. While not exactly going into a defensive shell, the U.S. focused on getting multiple defenders on Marta, the five-time "World Player of the Year," touched the ball.
Much of the first-half action was in the midfield with neither side getting much of advantage. In the first 45 minutes, Brazil had no shots on the U.S. goal while the Americans were credited with only a single shot.
Brazil used an unorthodox set-up with a sweeper playing behind two defenders, fronted by a pair of defensive midfielders. This gave it maximum protection in the final third, but allowed the U.S. some space in the midfield.
Rather than replace Amy LePeilbet at left back, where she has had difficulty in this competition, U.S. coach Pia Sundhage moved the faster Christie Rampone from right to left in the central defense, to give LePeibet more support.
Buehler, who swapped in the middle with Rampone, ended up marking Marta at one of the two key moments of the match and it looked like a trip home for the U.S. when she was called for fouling Marta leading to the penalty kick, but Wambach's bit of magic saved the Americans.
Rampone's pace was evident in the first half when she raced back, step-by-step with Marta to prevent her from going in alone on Solo.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Hope Solo - 8: In warmups, Solo fell heavily on her bad shoulder and one could tell from her reaction, she has and was playing in pain. Yet, over 124 minutes and then into the penalty kicks, she was sensational.
Defender Amy LePeilbet - 5.5: Certainly her best match of the competition. Made fewer errors and showed a physical presence on the back-line.
Defender Christie Rampone - 7: The best U.S. defender today made stop after stop, often matched against Marta or another of the speedy Brazilian forwards.
Defender Rachel Buehler - 4: Played much better until the moment when Marta got a step on her in the box and she responded by pulling the Brazilian down, giving up the penalty kick and seeing a red card for denying a goal-scoring opportunity.
Defender Ali Krieger - 6.5: Played very well on the right side, often stopping Brazilian attacks, sometimes at the last moment. Put away the decisive penalty kick in the tiebreaker.
Midfielder Shannon Boxx - 7: When the U.S. went down to 10 players, she moved back into the center of defense and essentially played both central defender and central midfield. She was victimized by Marta on Brazil's second goal, but otherwise played exceedingly well.
Midfielder Carli Lloyd - 5: She was good and not so good, at times in equal measure. At times, she was very good, but could have done much more to help the cause, including putting away an equalizer in overtime instead of sending it sailing over the crossbar. Carrying a yellow card, she foolishly stopped a Brazil through ball with her right arm. Had the referee given her a justified yellow, it would have cost the Americans a player.
Midfielder Lauren Cheney - 5.5: Another match of good chances, but poor finishing. She continues to get herself into good positions, but then can't seem to connect on her attempts on goal.
Midfielder Heather O'Reilly - 5.5: She has the pace to make a difference in a match like this one, but was unable to leave much of an impression before she ran out of gas as the match moved into extra time.
Forward Amy Rodriguez - 5: Just not making much of contribution to the U.S. attack. Made a couple of potentially costly giveaways in the first half.
Forward Abby Wambach - 7: With 21 other players on the field, she was the last one standing with her dramatic tying goal in the dying moments. She was a problem for the Brazilian defense all day and the best American field player.
Midfielder Megan Rapinoe (55th minute for Chaney) - 6.5: Played with great energy and purpose from the moment she stepped on the field and her cross to Wambach on the tying goal was a thing of beauty.
Forward Alex Morgan (72nd minute for Rodriguez) - 6: Brought fresh legs into he match which helped greatly in the extra time.
Forward Tobin Heath (108th minute for O'Reilly) - 5.5: Her energy was also a benefit over the final minutes.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Hope Solo.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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