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Sports Then and Now

USA Women’s Soccer Team Pulls Off a Miracle

Posted on July 10, 2011 by Dean Hybl

Abby Wambach's improbable goal in the final seconds set up the USA for victory over Brazil.

On the 12th anniversary of the biggest victory in United States women’s soccer history, the USA women’s squad pulled off a miracle that may eventually prove to be just as significant as their 1999 World Cup win over China.

For most of their quarterfinal matchup against Brazil it looked like another nail was being put in the coffin of soccer in the United States.

After the U.S. men’s team was the victim of awful officiating during the 2010 World Cup and FIFA by-passed the U.S. for hosting a future World Cup, the way it appeared the U.S. women were going to lose to Brazil would serve as another blow against keeping the casual fan interested in soccer.

The U.S. scored early following a defensive miscue by Brazil and maintained that lead midway through the second half.

Then as Brazil superstar Marta and American Rachel Buehler raced with their arms seemingly connected into the box, Marta fell to the ground and earned a penalty kick. While it wasn’t shocking that a penalty was called, it was a bit surprising that Buehler was given a red card considering that both players were going for the ball and there didn’t appear to be any malicious intent.

But if that wasn’t bad enough, what transpired next was even more frustrating for fans of the USA.

American goalie Hope Solo stopped the initial penalty kick attempt by Christiane, but shockingly, the referee blew the play dead and awarded Brazil another penalty kick. Evidently, she ruled that Solo had left the goal line (though replays showed she did not), as she was given a yellow card.

Marta took the second shot and put it home to tie the game.

The contest remained tied through the end of regulation, though the USA played the last 25 minutes with only 10 players.

In just the second minute of overtime, Marta scored her second goal on a pass from her teammate Maurine. In another bit of frustration for the Americans, replays clearly showed Maurine to be offside when she kicked the ball to Marta. However, the referee and line judges conveniently missed that one.

Things looked bad for the Americans as time kept slipping away. However, what was meant to be an insult to the Americans may actually have saved them.

With only minutes remaining, Brazil player Erika stalled when she went down on a tackle, even having the stretcher brought out to carry her off the field. Then, while being carted off the field and seemingly in agony, she suddenly sat up and then jumped off the stretcher and back onto the field of play.

This was obviously meant to slow down the Americans and eat valuable time, but ended up resulting in three minutes of extra time. Turns out the Americans only needed two of those minutes.

Two minutes into stoppage time, Megan Rapinoe sent a cross toward the goal that Abby Wambach struck perfectly with her head and slid into the goal to tie the score.

Hope Solo's save in penalty kicks helped the USA to a shocking victory.

In the penalty kicks, both teams made their first two shots and then the USA, which was shooting first in each round, connected again to make the score 3-2. Then, Solo made the biggest stop of the game when she blocked a shot by Daiane that proved to be the difference. Rapinoe and Ali Krieger converted the final penalty kicks to give the USA the victory and keep alive their World Cup dreams.

The victory lifts the USA to a semifinal matchup with France, while Brazil continues to be unable to win the major championships. They have lost to the USA in the last two Olympic Finals and lost in the finals at the 2007 World Cup.

While the victory may not give the USA the World Cup title as the win over China did 12 years ago, it may prove to be just as valuable to American soccer (not just on the women’s side).

As the USA was seemingly on their way to another controversial soccer loss, fans following on Twitter and Facebook were blasting FIFA and venting frustration on the seemingly uncanny way in which the USA is the victim of questionable calls on a regular basis in international soccer matches.

Had the USA ended up losing, the last week of the World Cup would have sunk to the bottom of the interest pool in the USA and most Americans wouldn’t care again until the next men’s World Cup, if even then.

While this one win won’t single-handedly keep fans interested in the game forever, it allows the USA additional chances to shine on an international stage and for Americans to continue to fall in love with the sport.

Soccer will never become as big in the USA as football, baseball or basketball, but the sport has grown by leaps and bounds in this country over the last 30 years and every time American fans are able to experience the excitement of the game (without the negativity of bad officiating) it provides another building block on the foundation for long-term success.

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