On this night, there was no way U.S. could beat Brazil
Posted: Thursday September 27, 2007 2:48PM; Updated: Thursday September 27, 2007 2:58PM
HANGZHOU, China -- There were plenty of talking points following Brazil's 4-0 win over the U.S. in the World Cup semifinals on Thursday.
There was coach Greg Ryan's decision to ride a hunch and start his backup goalkeeper. There was Leslie Osbourne's unfortunate own goal, which put the U.S. on its heels. And there was referee Nicole Petignat's incomprehensible decision to send off Shannon Boxx for doing little more than getting fallen on by Brazil's Cristiane.
Even without all that -- if Hope Solo starts in goal and plays flawlessly, if Osbourne heads Formiga's corner around the post instead of inside it, if Boxx plays the full 90 -- the U.S. would have had an incredibly difficult time beating Brazil on this night. Maybe on any night.
Brazil -- which looked so undisciplined in its quarterfinal win over Australia, like a collection of great players as opposed to a unified team -- was outstanding. They were fluid in attack, organized in defense.
"Brazil has amazing individual soccer players, and today they played like a team," said U.S. forward Abby Wambach. "I've never seen them play so well. They brought all of their heart and all of their soccer to the table. Does that mean I think Brazil is better than us? No."
It's hard not to disagree with Wambach. The American women can't be faulted for their effort; as usual, they played the full 90 minutes as hard as they could. They were simply outclassed. Brazil hasn't just closed the talent gap, it has opened one in the other direction.
Of course, it didn't help that the U.S. played much of the game a man down. "Obviously Shannon Boxx getting sent off so early in the game completely changes the game," said Ryan. "When you're a man short against a team that plays so well, it's very difficult."
The U.S. was already in trouble when Boxx was sent packing. (It was reminiscent of the men's team's game against Italy last summer, a defensive midfielder getting sent off on a dubious call just before halftime.) Osbourne headed a Brazil corner that was heading aimlessly towards keeper Briana Scurry into the net. Scurry, who was playing for the first time in the tournament, said she and Osbourne got their signals crossed.
"I would have gotten it had it gone past [Osbourne], but that's her area and Leslie's going to try to get that ball no matter what," said Scurry. "It's my job to call her out of there, but once she's going, it's tough to get a person to stop."
Scurry was under more scrutiny than any player on the field. Ryan started her because of her record against Brazil and her athleticism, which Ryan felt he needed against a Brazil side that is probably the best shooting team in the world. After the own goal, Scurry was beaten by Marta on a shot that was precisely the type that Ryan put her out there to stop, a low screamer from distance.
"I don't have any regrets about [starting Scurry]," said Ryan, who said that he was sure he'd be second-guessed. "I think Briana in that situation gives us the best chance to stop that shot because of her quickness and her speed." (Ryan added "There's nothing she could have done about any of the other goals" -- and he was right.)
Then Boxx got sent off and any chance of a U.S. comeback went with her. The U.S. went to a 3-4-2 so it could still attack, but it opened up holes in the back and Brazil went to work. The two goals the Samba Queens tacked on with a man advantage were brilliant, especially the final goal. With a nifty little backheel to herself, Marta got around Tina Ellertson -- who was brought on by Ryan to defend Marta (thanks for that assignment, coach!) -- and she snapped a quick shot past Scurry.
It was a move no player on the U.S. team could have pulled off. Heck, it was a move maybe one or two players on the men's team could have pulled off. That, in a nutshell, was the difference between the teams on Thursday.
And here's one last thing to chew on: Marta, who was serenaded by the adoring Chinese fans all night long, is only 21. It could be the difference for a long time to come.