US trying to stave off early elimination vs Brazil
The U.S. is the No. 1 team in the world, a two-time World Cup
champion and three-time Olympic gold medalist.
The only number that matters right now, however, is zero.
As in, the number of World Cups the current team has won.
”I take it personally that I haven’t won one,” Abby Wambach
said Saturday, ”and I’ll be heartbroken if we walk away without
The Americans better get into gear then. After losing a group
stage match for the first time at the World Cup, they must play old
foe Brazil in the quarterfinals Sunday, a matchup most had penciled
in for next weekend’s final. Lose, and not only will the Americans
be going empty-handed again, it will be their earliest exit ever at
the World Cup, a tournament they last won in 1999.
The United States is the only team that’s made the semifinals at
each of the previous five World Cups.
”We have the confidence and the faith in each other as a team.
We believe that if we do this together, we can beat anybody,”
Wambach said. ”We have our hands full. But I still believe, in the
end, we have the best chance of winning.”
History would seem to back that up. You have to go back more
than a decade, to the Algarve Cup in the spring of 2001, to find
the last time the United States lost back-to-back games. It’s been
more than four years just since they failed to win consecutive
The U.S. has been uncharacteristically inconsistent of late,
however, losing four games since November alone. Granted,
goalkeeper Hope Solo started only one of those losses, and not even
Iker Casillas would have stood much of a chance against Lisa
Dahlkvist’s penalty or Nilla Fischer’s deflected free kick in the
2-1 loss to Sweden on Wednesday night.
But the Americans don’t do losses. They usually go years without
a single one – like the two year-plus unbeaten streak they had
going before being stunned by Mexico in regional qualifying.
”It doesn’t matter if the U.S. has had some bad results in the
last six months,” said Marta, Brazil’s dazzling playmaker. ”It’s
Brazil-U.S., a big game. It’s special.”
Just like its men’s team, Brazil’s squad is loaded with
spectacular players. Marta, the FIFA player of the year five times
running, is so gifted with the ball it looks as if she’s got it on
a string, creating goals out of thin air. Cristiane has scored
twice so far, once from the penalty spot. Brazil’s unique 3-5-2
formation presents all kinds of challenges.
For all their star power, though, the Brazilians have never won
the title at a major tournament. They lost to the Americans in the
last two Olympic finals, and were runners-up to Germany at the 2007
And their track record against the Americans is less than
impressive. The U.S. is 23-2-2 all-time against Brazil, with only
one loss since January 1998. All but four of those matches since
1998 ended without the U.S. conceding, while Brazil managed a grand
total of eight goals.
”Those defeats don’t matter,” Brazil coach Kleiton Lima said
through a translator. ”They rise up with this experience. They are
much better in this moment.”
Much has been made about the teams’ last meeting at the World
Cup. Brazil’s 4-0 rout in the semifinals was the worst defeat in
U.S. history and led to a meltdown worthy of a soap opera.
Solo blasted then-coach Greg Ryan’s decision to bench her, even
though she’d had three clean sheets in a row. Ryan responded by
kicking Solo off the team. Less than a month later, Ryan was
Since then, however, the Americans have won the teams’ last four
meetings without conceding. Solo’s save on Marta’s point-blank shot
in the 72nd minute of the 2008 Olympic final was stunning, and
should be a must-see for every goalkeeper.
”Brazil, they have so much to prove. They have best player in
world but have yet to win a major championship,” Solo said. ”Do I
think Marta’s time will come? Certainly. She deserves that. With
that said, I do think we overall have the team to win it. Our
structure, our defense, our midfield, the fact that we have now
implemented an ability to be creative on the attack, I think we’re
the better team. But it’s all about executing it on game day.”
The Americans’ biggest weakness in this tournament has been
finishing. They had a whopping 20-9 advantage in shots against
Sweden, including a 6-5 edge in shots on goal, and still couldn’t
get the equalizer. They missed numerous other chances in the first
two games, as well.
Brazil is the only team that has yet to concede a goal, and the
Americans know they can’t afford to squander chances against the
stingy Erika, Rosana and the like. They are convinced, as they have
been all tournament, that this next game is when things turn
”We’re fit, we’re strong and we don’t give up,” Carli Lloyd
said. ”That’s one of greatest things we have about this team.
We’ve been doing some really good things, creating a lot of
chances, and I think the goals are going to come.”
If not, the Americans know they’ll have let a golden opportunity
pass – and not just to win a title.
The World Cup in Germany has been an overwhelming success.
Several games, including Sunday’s quarterfinal, have been sold out,
and the Americans are all over TV back home. But that interest is
likely to drop off in a hurry if the Americans go home early.
”We want to prove to the pioneers of the game in our country
… that their efforts were worth it,” Wambach said. ”We’re
participating in something that’s huge. Very few times does the
spotlight shine so bright on women’s soccer, and we want to prove
to everybody around the world that we have a product and that
product is worth watching.”