Monday, July 11, 2011
Sunday's match between the United States and Brazil in the semifinals of the Women's World Cup was a real treat. As one sports writer put it, "America didn't just win. America overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to win, and insurmountable odds is a more popular opponent than any nation on earth."
Officiating gaffes both marred the game and set the stage for a dramatic triumph:
The U.S. women's soccer team was done. Toast. Down to 10 players against Brazil and the world's greatest player. Down a goal. Down to the last dying seconds of [injury] time and a cruel quarterfinal exit from the World Cup after a series of botched officiating calls had hurt both teams, but the U.S. more than Brazil.I don't care for the dismissive way Ray Ratto of CBS put it, when he described the Australian referee's contribution to the drama as, "offer[ing] that extra bit of what America likes in its international events -- the jingoism that comes from feeling victimized," but he is right about the referee setting things up.
Here is how the Americans responded:
The U.S. pushed forward, desperate for an equalizer, a Hail Mary. Midfielder Carli Lloyd fed the ball to Megan Rapinoe on the left flank. Rapinoe is one of the great characters on this U.S. team. After she scored earlier in the tournament, Rapinoe celebrated by picking up an on-field microphone and singing "Born in the USA." Rapinoe had an opening, and on the far post she saw the lurking menace of Wambach.Wambach, America's most productive offensive player, had been in a scoring drought until the previous game. She headed the ball into the net.
But Ratto has it only half-right. As an American, he saw what motivated the American team. It took a foreigner -- America's coach, Pia Sundhage -- to name what actually made the drama:
But then something happened. That American thing. "I come from Sweden," said U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, "and this American attitude, pulling everything together and bringing out the best performance in each other, that is contagious."Here's the goal, made during injury time after the second half of overtime.
The American team simply never gave in to fatigue or frustration (and there were plenty of both after two hours of play). They didn't quit, and that made all the difference between their game making sports history in dramatic fashion and going down as just another big game blown by lousy officiating.
Certainly, this is a talented, fit, and well-coached team, but their spirit carried the day in yesterday's contest.