Three postgame thoughts on U.S.-Brazil
DRESDEN, Germany -- Three thoughts after the U.S. advanced to the Women's World Cup semifinals on penalty kicks after a 2-2 tie against Brazil:
Rapinoe to Wambach goes down in history. The game looked lost when the U.S., down to 10 players, pushed forward in stoppage time for one last crack at the goal. Midfielder Megan Rapinoe sent a majestic cross into the box for Abby Wambach, who thundered home the tying header on a play that U.S. soccer fans will never forget. Give the U.S. a tremendous amount of credit for continuing to play after a series of poor referee decisions had impacted the game in the second half. Lesser teams would have thrown tantrums and blamed the officiating, but the U.S. showed a tremendous amount of character -- and it paid off in the end. In the end, Hope Solo's penalty save on Daiane made the difference, and all Ali Krieger had to do was have her own Brandi Chastain moment to finish it off. Just as in that famous 1999 penalty shootout, every single U.S. player converted her spot kick. Remarkable.
The referee had a shocker -- and both teams had reason to complain. If the U.S. had lost, Australian referee Jacqui Melksham would have been the name that U.S. fans remembered after having a huge influence on this game on more than one occasion. With the U.S. up 1-0 in the second half, goalkeeper Solo had made a huge save on Cristiane's penalty kick when Melksham whistled a U.S. player for encroachment in the penalty box. It's the kind of call you hardly ever see made and it had zero impact on the play, but Marta converted Brazil's second try -- and then scored again off a pass from Maurine, who had appeared on replays to be offside. It's terribly unfortunate that bad officiating could have had such a big impact on a game of this magnitude. Remember, Melksham missed another big call when she should have given U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd her second yellow for a handball in the second half and didn't.
This World Cup is wide open now. Who would have predicted that three of the four semifinalists would be Japan, France and Sweden? Not me, that's for sure. Now the U.S. will try to recover from this emotional roller-coaster and be ready to play France in a semifinal against one of the tournament's biggest surprises. It won't be easy to forget one of the greatest games of all time today, but that's exactly what the U.S. will have to do. You got the sense that the U.S. men didn't quite do the same against Ghana after their miracle finish against Algeria last year in South Africa. Now it's up to the U.S. veterans and coach Pia Sundhage to buckle down, win two more games and raise the Yanks' first World Cup trophy since 1999. They're the favorites now -- after being literally seconds from going out of this tournament.