United States 2, Brazil 2

Any time she caught a teammate’s eye, Abby Wambach held up one

finger. It had nothing to do with the shrinking numbers on the

clock.

”I kept saying, `All it takes is one chance. It takes one

second to score a goal,”’ Wambach said.

Regulation. Overtime. Stoppage time. Penalty kicks. Through it

all, the Americans never lost faith they’d pull it out.

Did they ever.

The Americans advanced to the semifinals with one of the most

riveting victories in the history of the World Cup – men’s or

women’s – beating old foe Brazil 5-3 in penalty kicks after a 2-2

tie.

When Ali Krieger hammered the last penalty into the bottom left

corner of the net, the Americans let loose with a raucous

celebration that soon spread back to the United States. Highlights

of the game even got time on the Jumbotron at Yankee Stadium.

”There’s something to be said about this team. This American

attitude of pulling everything together and bringing out the best

performance in each other is contagious,” said U.S. coach Pia

Sundhage, a Swede. ”I am very, very proud, and I’m very, very

happy to be the coach for the U.S. team.”

For Brazil, it is yet another disappointment at a major

tournament. And this one is sure to sting more than any others

because Marta had it won for the Brazilians, scoring her second

goal of the game in the second minute of overtime for the 2-1

lead.

Wambach scored in the 122nd minute – about 90 seconds before the

Americans were to make their earliest exit ever from the tournament

they’ve won twice – and Hope Solo continued her mastery of the

Brazilians in the penalty shootout by batting down an attempt by

Daiane.

”Everything seemed to be on the safe side, but it wasn’t,”

Brazil coach Kleiton Lima said. ”Unfortunately there was the

goal.”

The U.S. victory comes exactly 12 years to the day the Americans

beat China in a penalty-kick shootout at the Rose Bowl to win their

second World Cup title, a watershed moment for the U.S. team and

women’s sports in general. This, the Americans insist, is another

special group.

With two-time defending champion Germany and Brazil gone, the

Americans figure to be favorites to win their third title. They

play France in Wednesday night’s semifinal, and would face either

Japan or Sweden in next Sunday’s final. Sweden beat the United

States 2-1 in the final group stage game, its second victory this

year over the Americans.

”We’re just fighting for each other out there,” said captain

Christie Rampone, the last player left from the 1999 squad. ”We

were totally believing the whole time.”

Marta and the Brazilians, meanwhile, watched in stunned silence

as the Americans celebrated, and Cristiane had to wipe away tears

several times during postgame interviews. Despite a star-filled

roster led by Marta, the FIFA player of the year five times

running, Brazil has never won a major tournament. It lost to the

Americans in the last two Olympic gold-medal games, and to Germany

in the 2007 World Cup final.

The U.S. has eliminated Brazil at five of the last seven major

tournaments. The Americans also have won their last five meetings

against Brazil, which entered with a 19-game, two-year unbeaten

streak.

No victory, however, was more memorable than this.

”They fought, they did everything,” Lima said. ”They threw

their hearts into it.”

The lone consolation was that Marta’s goals, the 13th and 14th

of her career, tied her with Birgit Prinz atop the World Cup career

scoring list.

”We will leave with our heads high,” Marta said.

The Americans have been questioned and doubted after

uncharacteristic inconsistency over the past year. After going more

than two years without a loss, they’ve dropped four just since

November. And they squandered the early lead gifted to them by

Daiane, who botched a clearance on a Shannon Boxx cross in the

second minute, knocking the ball into her own net.

But the players insisted they would be fine when it mattered

most, and they proved it in the most dramatic of fashions.

With about a minute left in stoppage time of the final overtime

period and down a player since Rachel Buehler’s ejection in the

65th, Megan Rapinoe blasted a left-footed cross from 30 yards out

on the left side that Andreia didn’t come close to getting her

hands on. Wambach, one of the best players in the world in the air,

made contact and with one furious whip of her head, buried it in

the near side of the net from about 5 yards.

”I don’t think I’ve ever hit a cross like that with my left

foot,” Rapinoe said. ”The best header in the world went and got

it. Then, I don’t know. I think I blacked out.”

Wambach let out a primal scream and slid into the corner,

pumping her fists and quickly mobbed by teammates. No goal had ever

been scored that deep into a World Cup game.

”I’m at a loss and I literally cannot believe what just

happened,” Wambach said.

The Americans, shooting first, made their three penalty kicks

only to have Cristiane and Marta easily match them. But then it was

Daiane’s turn. She took a hard shot, but Solo dove and batted the

ball out of harm’s way.

It was four years ago that Solo touched off a firestorm,

blasting then-coach Greg Ryan’s decision to bench her for the

semifinals, a 4-0 loss that was the worst defeat in U.S. history.

Any hard feelings her teammates had were erased when Solo led them

to the Olympic gold medal in 2008, and everyone else’s memories of

those dark days get a little dimmer with every game.

”Hope, amazing. She’s the best goalkeeper in the world,”

Rampone said. ”We kept saying, `Hope’s gonna get one. Hope’s gonna

get one. We just have to finish them off’.”

The dramatic finish overshadowed a brilliant effort by

Marta.

She made a dangerous run into the box in the 65th, beating two

U.S. defenders and coming practically nose to nose with Solo before

Buehler tracked back and dragged her down. Australian referee

Jacqui Melksham not only ruled it a penalty but a red card as well.

Cristiane, who already scored one goal off a penalty, took the

kick. Solo made a perfect read and smacked it away, pumping her

fists as Lloyd ran toward her to grab her in a bearhug.

But Melksham ordered the penalty retaken – and gave Solo a

yellow card, ruling the American left her line or a teammate

encroached the penalty area before the kick was taken. Replays

clearly showed Solo was on her line.

”I have no idea,” Solo said. ”It is what it is.”

As the crowd jeered, Marta stepped up for the retake, staring

down her old foe. Solo cost Marta and the Brazilians the gold medal

in Beijing, stopping a point-blank blast from Marta in the 72nd

minute of the Olympic final. This time, however, Marta got the best

of the ‘keeper, burying the ball to pull the Brazilians even.

Marta seemed to put the game out of reach with another goal in

the 92nd minute – though replays seemed to show that Maurine, the

player who fed her the ball, was offside.

But Erika stalled when she went down on a tackle, and the delay

contributed to the 3 minutes of stoppage time added to the end game

– extra seconds that would prove crucial.

”That is a perfect example of what this country is about. What

the history of this team has always been,” Wambach said. ”We

never give up.”