In the Nick of Time...

I have to thank the newspaper this morning. I hadn't watched a minute of the Women's World Cup since the opening day, and didn't realize the US/Brazil game was going to be today. But I saw it while eating breakfast, and that was enough to put me in front of the TV about fifteen minutes before coverage started.

When I got to it, Sports Center was on, and going on and on about the 1999 Cup-winning game for the US. It seemed a bit overblown to be going on and on about that one before a quarterfinal game; I hadn't realized it was exactly twelve years after that game.

But this game definitely matched that one in drama and fortitude; really, exceeded it in every way except that it was only a quarterfinal game, not a Final.

It started out great for the US; they took the opening and worked it around the field, not allowing Brazil a touch until the 74th second. And that touch went into the Brazilian goal. Oy.

From there, the US played great defense, and were tactically very sound. Their execution on offense was not so great, though, with a lot of unforced turnovers. Mostly, they were outplayed by Brazil, but not by a huge amount.

Things really seemed to go south around the 65th minute. Marta got her feet on the ball in the box, and did a little chip over two defenders. Buehler, the defender who tracked the ball, ran to it, and was called for a foul in preventing the shot (by maintiaining her positioning). It was, at best, a very iffy call. No matter what happened, it was putting the US in a horrible position, thanks to the red card that went with that foul. My wife, who had walked into the house as this was unfolding, was very upset at my yell when Solo stopped the penalty kick. I was unapologetic, and livid when the (web designer?!?) referee called for a re-kick, throwing in a yellow card on Solo. She seemed to be saying that Solo had come off the line early, but the replay showed that she never left the line at all. <

Given a second chance, Cristiana (I think) put it into the back of the net. It was, quite possibly, the worst officiating sequence I had ever seen.

But instead of being pushed back onto their heels, the US actually became more effective. I think the strategy didn't change, but they were able to put quite a few more passes together offensively. This led to them threatening a number of times, mostly on set pieces, but they weren't able to convert.

After twenty-five minutes or so, regulation play ended with no further scoring.

A few minutes into extra time, while I was helping my daughter go to the bathroom, Marta managed to put one into the net. Again, the officiating looked bad, because it appeared that the player who passed it to her (Erika?) was offsides. One had to wonder what was going on..

Play continued to go back and forth through the end of the first half of overtime. Five minutes into the second half, when the US threatened again, just after the ball got cleared, one of the Brazilian defenders (Erika) went down, and stayed down for several minutes (literally). They took her off on a stretcher, but how badly hurt was she (ignoring that there was nobody near her when she went down)? Well, they took her a quarter of the way around the field, then she jumped off the stretcher and ran to the bench (where she could be allowed back onto the field).

She was allowed back on almost immediately, though she received a yellow card for her troubles.

But the good thing about it from the US perspective was that there was three minutes of stoppage in a fifteen minute period. So play continued to see-saw back and forth, with Brazil trying to rag off time in the corners. But coming out of one of those possessions, Rampone got the ball and played it well up to Rampinoe (who had subbed in fairly late in regulation, and got a full game's worth of touches while she was on the pitch). She ran it up the sideline a bit, and then put a very long cross to the far post in the air. The goalie misplayed it by a couple of inches, and the ball found Wambach's head before it found the back of the net. My wife did not yell at me for my scream when that got home, mostly because she was yelling almost as loudly.

That was in the second minute of stoppage time, and man, did that bring on some excitement.

The rest of the game (all minute or so of it) was almost anticlimactic. Brazil did manage to threaten, but the whistle was blown after the ball went out past the touch line off a US defender. I was amazed they didn't give Brazil the kick and a few seconds to try to finish it.

So that left things going into penalty kicks. Given that the US had been down a player for close to an hour of playing time, it was amazing that they were still standing. They had certainly been running much harder than the Luso's for all of that time.

In the penalty kicks, there was a bit of excitement when Boxx's opening salvo was blocked, but she was given a re-kick given that the goalie had come (far) off her line before the kick. No yellow card, though. But I think that threw off both goalies, as they weren't getting moving as quickly as usual.

But the rest of it was very businesslike, with the US burying all five chances, and Solo getting one block (on the third, I think) to send the US on to the semifinals.

In all, it was a magnificent performance by the US to overcome some truly wretched officiating (and some very good play by Brazil, to be fair). I think the US should have won 1-0 (which would have been the fifth consecutive time the US would have won that matchup by that score), but the officiating turned what would have been a very boring game into something to be remembered for a long time.

Strategically, the US had an excellent plan. They wanted to play it into the deep, flank spaces that Brazil's defensive alignment allows. They switched up positioning a little bit to have a bit more speed on defense (and that saved them several times). The defense was excellent, keeping multiple people on the ball until the end of the game (where, I think, they were just too tired to continue that).

But the midfield passing was not good. Part of that was too much playing of long-balls. Too many of those passes went into the middle instead of to the flank, and those were eaten up.

But just as an outright gut-check, it was an amazing performance. Really, I was about ready to write them off (and turn the game off) several times. I am amazed they managed to get the equalizer while down a player.

Of course, all that drama only got them into the semifinals. They still need to defeat France and the winner of the Sweden-Japan match to take home the Cup. But nobody can question their determination and heart; not after that game.

I just hope they don't show any complacency. As long as they don't, they should be fine, even missing Wambach (IIRC, she's going to miss the semifinal for accumulated red cards) and, I assume, Buehler (I assume her red card will cause a similar effect for her).

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