Controversial calls not enough to dash U.S. Women’s hopes

An own goal. A 65th minute red card. A saved penalty kick. A retaken penalty kick. Overtime. A 122nd minute goal to tie. Controversial goals. Missed calls. The game ending in penalty kicks. It was one written for the history books. It was the making of the most exciting Women’s World Cup final ever. Except it wasn’t a final. Two of the best teams in the world met in the quarterfinals, but they played like it was the finals. The United States and Brazil, ranked No. 1 and 3, respectively, had met before in the World Cup four years ago when Brazil won 4-0 in the semifinals. The United States were seeking revenge and Brazil was seeking its first World Cup title after losing to Germany in the 2007 World Cup. The match promised to be an exciting one, and the two teams did not disappoint.

The United States made the crucial first strike in the 2nd minute when a cross from USA midfielder Shannon Boxx was mishandled by Brazilian defender Daiane and deflected into the Brazilian goal. The United States needed to take an early lead because Brazil’s speed and skill on the ball would have been harder to chase if Brazil had struck first. With an early lead, the United States needed to play smart and keep possession of the ball. The U.S. managed to hold the ball for 20 minutes, but Brazil seemed to find their stride by midway through the first half. The U.S. looked a little scattered and gave the ball away frequently. The Brazilian front line of Marta, Cristiane and Rosana used intricate and precise footwork to weave their way through the midfield, but the United States back line held strong, swarming the ball when it reached the back third and suffocating Brazil’s front line as they closed in on the goal. U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage made a smart decision to move central defender Christie Rampone to the left central position to back the slower Amy LePeilbet. LePeilbet had something to prove after the USA’s loss to Sweden in the last game of group play. She caused the foul in the box that lead to Sweden’s first goal on a penalty kick, and Sweden’s second goal was ruled an own goal on LePeilbet after an unfortunate deflection. But during today’s game, LePeilbet made little mistakes. She tracked the ball, made strong tackles and played good support defense. Whatever mistakes were made in the previous game, LePeilbet put those out of her mind and played her strongest game of the tournament.

The U.S. held strong until the 65th minute when U.S. central defender Rachel Buehler went shoulder-to-shoulder with Marta in the box. Buehler threw out a leg that caught Marta and pulled her down. Australia referee Jacqui Melksham pulled out her red card and sent Buehler off, leaving the U.S. to play the remainder of the game a man down. Brazil looked to make its first strike. Cristiane lined up for the penalty kick, but U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo made an unbelievable block and the women swarmed her to celebrate. But referee Melksham made the first of what would be a string of controversial calls. Melksham called back the penalty kick, issued a yellow card to Solo and ordered a retake on a call that seemed unclear to spectators and announcers. Replays showed a U.S. player was encroaching on the box before the penalty was taken. However, because the referee gave Solo the yellow card, it seemed the referee team felt that Solo left her line before Cristiane took the penalty. It was blatantly obvious to those that watched the play and saw the replays that Solo’s save was clean and she made no movements off her line until the ball was struck. Marta lined up to take the second chance penalty kick and converted with a left-footed shot into the bottom right corner. Now the U.S. had a hole to climb out of. Brazil had tied the game, and the U.S. had lost a key defender and were forced to play with ten players.

Playing with ten players seemed to jump the U.S. into high gear. The women kept possession, passed the ball better and attacked more than they had with eleven players on the field. Normally when a team loses a player they jump into defensive mode. The U.S. went into attack mode right away. Boxx moved into a central defensive role and forward Alex Morgan came in as a substitute for forward Amy Rodriguez. The U.S. moved the ball up the flanks, sent crosses and slipped through balls in through the defense to Morgan and forward Abby Wambach. Unfortunately, the U.S. could not convert on any of their chances. At the end of regulation, Brazil and the U.S. were tied, 1-1.

Brazil began extra time the way the U.S. began the game: with a quick goal in the 92nd minute. Marta scored an acrobatic left footed flick on a cross from Maurine, who appeared to be offsides when she received the pass that led to the assist. Melksham missed the offsides after calling much closer offsides calls on the U.S. The U.S. once again needed to dig themselves out of a hole. The U.S. had conceded two goals to one of the best teams in the world and they were playing a man down, but Brazil appeared to be tired and wearing out. The U.S. continued to attack, but their hopes seemed to be slipping away as the minutes ticked down and they weren’t able to produce any goals. Desperation settled in and in what looked like to be one of the final chances, Megan Rapinoe crossed the ball from the left side. Quicker than the blink of an eye, the ball was in the back of the net. And what better person to have scored than veteran and team leader Wambach. Rapinoe’s ball was the perfect cross: it went right over the defense, past Brazilian keeper Andreia, who left her line to try to punch the ball out, right onto the head of Wambach, who squared up and directed the ball at the near post into the goal. It was a miraculous way to end extra time in an unbelievable quarterfinal match.

The game went to penalty kicks. Boxx took the first penalty kick and it was blocked by Andreia, but Melksham called for the penalty to be retaken because Andreia came way off her line before the shot was taken. Boxx calmly placed the ball into the upper right corner. Cristiane converted her penalty kick into the bottom left corner, as Solo guessed the wrong way. Carli Lloyd made her penalty kick for the U.S. to the bottom left corner. Marta finished her night with a hat trick after putting her penalty kick into the bottom left corner. Wambach took the third penalty kick for the United States and placed the ball in the right side of the net. Brazil gave Daiane the chance to redeem herself after the crucial own goal in the 2nd minute of the game, but things did not go her way. Solo made a remarkable outstretched save as Daiane tried to slip one past her on the left side. Rapinoe placed her penalty kick to bottom left corner as Andreia guessed wrong. The pressure was on Francielle who needed to convert her penalty kick to keep Brazil in the game. She placed her penalty kick into the bottom right corner to keep Brazil in the game. Ali Krieger, who has played professional soccer in Frankfurt, Germany for the last four years, had the chance to send the United States to the semifinals in front of her American and German fans. She calmly put the ball into the lower left corner to send the U.S. to the semifinals against France on Wednesday.


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