There are many places the United States Women’s National Team didn’t want to be during the 2011 Women’s World Cup. Down both a goal and a player after two halves, a 30 minute extra period and into 3 minutes of extra time is one of them. But sometimes in sports it is the ability to reach deep inside, showing fortitude and a refusal to accept defeat, that gives birth to immortality. In the 122nd minute of an elimination game against powerful Brazil and the best player in the world, Marta, USA forward Abby Wambach took a beautiful crossing pass from midfielder Megan Rapinoe and created a moment that will be replayed for as long as there is a US Women’s National Team, leaping into the heavens and heading in a goal that saved the United States from elimination, pushing a 2-2 game to penalty kicks where the Americans, behind a key save by goaltender Hope Solo, would ultimately prevail.
It would be the Brazilian squad who would first have to overcome adversity, as in the second minute of the game Shannon Boxx of the US centered a ball from the far left inline to the box and Brazil’s Daiane, facing her own goal, kicked the ball past her teammate in goal to give the Americans a nearly instantaneous 1-0 advantage. It was the second fastest goal in US history.
Any goal against Brazil is important. They had not given up a goal yet in the 2011 Women’s World Cup, and they still really hadn’t given one up from the foot or head of an opposing player. But nonetheless, they trailed early against the top-ranked Americans. It was on Brazil’s equalizing goal that this match would begin to take on an air of controversy. In the 65th minute Marta flipped the ball over two American players and stormed towards goalie Hope Solo when Rachel Buehler challenged Marta for the ball in mid-air, drawing a foul and denial of a scoring opportunity red card.
The Americans cried foul over the foul, but it would be the penalty kick that would incense the pro-American crowd. Cristiane took the penalty kick for Brazil. The star forward would be denied by a diving Hope Solo, sending the American side into celebration. However, it was a premature celebration as the US team was called for…well, those watching weren’t really sure. At first it seemed as though they called Solo for moving off her line. But clearly, she did not. Probably, the infraction was an encroachment, but it was a really tight call for such a situation. Again, the Americans were crying foul. To add salt to the wound, Solo picked up a yellow card for complaining. The penalty kick would be replayed, this time with five-time FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Marta evening the score, 1-1.
Marta is indeed the world’s best player, but at times she seems like the world’s best actress as well with some serious flopping and gesticulations. She was showered with whistles for the rest of the contest whenever she touched the ball. The great players, though, love boiling the blood of the opposing crowd. Marta after the game even joked that “they love me” and said she is motivated by all the vitriol aimed squarely at her. With the game tied 1-1 and heading to an extra 30 minute period, the world’s greatest player would show why she is a force. In the 92nd minute midfielder Shannon Boxx had Marta covered at the near post when she turned to the referee to claim Brazil was offside. They say you should never turn your back on the ocean lest the tides and waves consume you. Well, Boxx learned if you turn your back on Marta, her brilliance will inundate you. The superstar forward would take a cross from teammate Maurine and left foot a ball up and over Boxx and Solo to the far post with world class skill to put Brazil up 2-1. Although there was a lot of time to go in the extra period and the Americans had played better one player down than they did at even strength, the goal by Marta felt like a dagger in the heart of America’s World Cup hopes.
But the United States did not become the #1 ranked team in the world by being quitters. Still, they needed something special from their superstar, Abby Wambach. She would not disappoint. She nearly evened the score in the 95th minute, just missing wide. The clock kept ticking…and ticking…and ticking…until the US found themselves past the 120th minute and into extra time on the extra period. There would be 3 minutes between pushing the match to penalty kicks or going home for the American squad. To many, it seemed the latter was inevitable. But in what would be their last offensive touch of the game, Team USA went the length of the field to create a magical and unforgettable moment in US Soccer history. Carli Lloyd made a pass to Megan Rapinoe on the far left side attacking the Brazil goal one final time. Rapinoe, who had some shaky touches in this match, saved her best for last as she put a perfect crossing pass high to the opposite post, drawing out goaltender Andreia. From the right side, Abby Wambach leaped in the air like Kobe Bryant on an alley-oop dunk and headed in the tying goal in the 122nd minute to the thunderous cheers of American fans around the world. It was the first goal in the entire tournament that Brazil had surrendered directly off an opposing player. There was some justice to this goal, as the three extra minutes were added due to a…dubious at best…injury to Brazilian defender Erika. I’ll just say it. It was more Academy Award worthy acting from the Brazilian squad. The whistle blew soon after and it was on to penalty kicks.
After trading the first two makes from Brazil’s Cristiane and Marta and America’s Shannon Boxx and Carli Lloyd, Abby Wambach took the third penalty kick and put the USA up 3-2 in penalty kicks. Brazil’s Daiane stepped in and tried to outduel goaltender Hope Solo, but Solo made a brilliant save, diving to her right and swatting away Brazil’s try. Megan Rapinoe of the US and Francielle of Brazil traded penalty kicks, but with the US up 4-3, Ali Krieger ended the drama by beating goaltender Andreia to give the USA a 2-2 (5-3 pk) win.
It was euphoric. It was breathtaking. It was the kind of match that has a nation that doesn’t generally care about soccer, that thinks football is a game played by guys named Manning and Favre, feel the electricity that the rest of the world feels when their nation triumphs in the most popular game on earth. The American team still has a lot of work to do. As Hope Solo said after the game, they didn’t come to the World Cup with the goal of beating Brazil. They came to win it all. France awaits in the semifinals. But for today, the American team can celebrate. They deserve to celebrate. Tomorrow they can think about France. Today, to fans around the world, they can be heroes.