The Match That Upstaged South Africa

Abby Wambach, from

If, for whatever reason, you’ve dismissed the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup and didn’t bother to watch this afternoon’s war between the United States and Brazil, you missed one helluva match. Some might call it the greatest finish in US soccer history, regardless of the gender involved.

If that paragraph has made you curious enough to want to see the match, and your provider has an agreement with ESPN, go to ESPN3 and watch it. You can also tape it on ESPN2 starting at midnight tonight. I’m serious. Set aside the two hours or so and treat yourself to a drama fit for hardcover. For those who have watched, continue below and we’ll discuss this battle.

Why does this upstage Landon Donovan’s goal in South Africa? It cones down to the opponent, Brazil. While we are #1 in the FIFA Rankings, Brazil is a close 3rd. For the day Brazil may have been our enemy, but as the match turned, the stadium (and what seemed like the entire nation of Germany) turned against Marta and crew. On any other day, the brilliance of Brazil’s skill would have won over the crowd, wowing them with stepovers, pullbacks, volleys, and other glimpses of technical magic. That didn’t happen in this match.

The story started well for the Americans. The gameplan laid out prematch by the entire ESPN crew (exploit the flanks) resulted in the opening goal, less than a minute and a half in. Shannon Boxx was freed down the left side, and her cross was misplayed by sweeper Daiane straight into the net for the own goal.

The rest of the first half and beginning of the second half were well-controlled by the US. Brazil’s chances came on the counter, but they couldn’t find an equalizer until the 65th minute. Marta, double-covered in the area by two American defenders, flicked the ball over their heads, and was free towards goal. Rachel Buehler grabbed Marta’s shirt, preventing her a quality shot on goal, and referee Jacqui Melksham pointed to the spot. She also gave Buehler a red card for her professional foul. Cristiane took the penalty, and though Hope Solo saved, the referee controversially ruled an infraction. Marta deposited the retake to tie.

After the penalty goal, the US were reduced to 10 on the pitch, but they completed regulation with a chip on their shoulder. They felt the referee was harsh in the entire penalty sequence, and Brazil seemed to relent a bit during the final twenty minutes acknowledging the Americans’ intent. More importantly for the United States, the crowd began to turn their way. The Americans fed off this energy. This allowed the US a number of chances, but neither team found the winning goal after a full 90 minutes.

Extra time began, and Brazil turned it on. They immediately earned the go-ahead goal, on a sharp-angle Marta volley from 8 yards that miraculously grabbed the far post and dashed into the goal. A funny thing occurred though: at that point, Marta had taken on the villain role with the crowd. It wasn’t just the penalty, that alone wasn’t her fault. Throughout the match, the Brazilians had seemingly manipulated Melksham through complaints and simulation, especially Marta. The perception that they were embellishing injuries only heightened the stadium’s ire as they tried to hold the lead in extra time.

The second fifteen minutes of extra time whirred by like a freight train, the Americans pressing hard for the equalizer but short on players and even shorter on time. Brazil continued to feign injury and waste inordinate amounts of time. The fourth official signaled 3 minutes of injury time, for an overtime period a lot, but a seeming short shrift for the trailing Americans.

Brazil’s endgame might have worked on a different day. Was it using a sweeper, allowing a deep forward to remain onside? Was it the inability to maintain possession and while away time in the offensive corners? Or perhaps it was the sheer determination of the Stars and Stripes, something the entirety of America has been waiting to see from its international sports stars for many years?

To me, it was just a great play. To me, it was slightly reminiscent of Cal’s Kevin Moen dashing through Stanford’s kick coverage and marching band to grasp victory from the clutches of defeat. Carli Lloyd could have been cynically taken down by a Brazilian midfielder, but wasn’t. She passed to Megan Rapinoe on the left flank. Rapinoe calmly dashed forward, and launched a cross into the area. Andreia, Brazil’s goalkeeper, lunged for the ball, but it was beyond her fingertips. Abby Wambach, the experienced forward from Rochester, NY, was in perfect position to head the ball and produce a moment for all to remember.

At that point, it seemed inevitable that the US would prevail. Marta made the American fans gasp in the final seconds of extra time, but the match remained level and penalties ensued.

The spotlight then moved directly from Wambach to Hope Solo. The goalkeeper who spoke out against her previous coach four years ago now had a chance to back up her talk. On the third Brazilian penalty, own goal scorer Daiane placed the ball well to Solo’s right, but the Washington native deflected the shot wide of goal. When Ali Krieger calmly completed the team’s 5-for-5 from the spot, a spot in America’s heart was won.

Yes, the US Women’s National Team is ranked #1 in the world, so this wasn’t the shocking result of, say, the 1980 Winter Olympics Hockey semifinal. On paper we should be better than Brazil, but sometimes it can seem like rankings are meaningless when it comes to neutral site matches. But let’s set that all aside. While I love tactics, I also think there are times you just have to absorb a match for what it’s worth. While this match wasn’t a historic result, it was a historic clash which has given us one of the most clutch performances you will see on the World’s Stage. Let’s savor it while we wait for Wednesday and France.

51 thoughts on “The Match That Upstaged South Africa”

  1. This afternoon we learned what U.S. national soccer team has the balls in the family. Perhaps the men’s team can learn something about playing attacking and winning soccer.
    A great comeback over adversity and more shocking the the men’s team comeback last year against Algeria.

  2. Brazil simply could not deliver. The team choked. They have seemed to respect -and fear- the Americans a little bit too much. We had like 60, 70 minutes with 1-player advantage, but if one didn’t know, would not realize it.

    P.S.: The last minute goal was a defensive disaster.

    P.P.S.: The fact that the girls opted to play “for the referee”, and not against the US, shows how afraid they were.

  3. yep. i watched the whole game, and let me just say that MLS fans have no complaint on refs compared to the refs for this game. While it was indeed a game for the ages, the referring on this one was truly one of the worst in international competition ever seen. It had to be. Really, you should watch this game when you think you’ve seen bad calls in important games just to remind you that its really not that bad…compared to today’s ref.
    You could see the greater skill of the American players. Other then that, Krieger is hot piece of …..
    If the US makes it the final, I wonder if the ratings will be like in 99. Its still amazing that 40 mil people watched back then. I’m hoping Krieger reenacts Chaistain’s shirt-removal celebration.

    1. If they make the final, put it on ABC. That is the only way to get a true comparison.

      I know I am going to get a lot of criticism for this next statement, but I feel compelled to say it.

      The MLS has absolutely nothing on this Women’s World Cup. Nothing.

      1. put it this way. I was on the edge of my couch the whole second half for Women’s match and I feel asleep during the Timbers v. Sounders match! HAHAHAHA

          1. Robert you did miss out on an amazing rivalrie match… was awesome! 5goals and a red card. and thousands of disheartened Timbers fans. Made my whole day, the US womens match was the icing on a GREAT DAY for soccer!

  4. In terms of skill, the women could teach the men a thing or 2. They have made some mistakes too, but their technique is better overall IMHO.

  5. The officiating was fine; not great, but solid. That is probably as difficult a match as there will be in this WC. The call for the penalty kick was right; the camera angle from behind the goal showed Buehler had a handful of Marta’s jersey (not deny that Marta made a meal of it). Retaking the PK was right, too; replays clearly show a US player entering the box early.

    If anyone should be embarassed, it should be ESPN for having all 5 of its commentators (both in the stadium and in the studio) dwell on the possibility that Solo committed the infringement on the first PK and ignoring the USA field player entering the penalty box. The production people even highlighed the field player entering box, and they still went right back to the goalkeeper stuff. It’s another in a growing list of ESPN commentators not understanding the Laws and how they apply – see Twellman/Davis not knowing about no offside on a goal kick from this past Monday’s RSL/Revolution match and Efan Ekoku on an offside call during the Mexico/South Africa match at last year’s World Cup.

    That being said, a fantastic match and one that will talked about for a long time. Let’s just hope that the high point the high point of the USA’s tournament comes this Sunday.

    1. Ok, I wasn’t going to focus the article on the officiating, but I’ll comment here.

      My problem was that the head referee Melkstam failed to use proper signaling in many cases: a) did not point to spot on penalty. b) Did not immediately go over to Buehler and issue red. c) did not make immediate motions that she detected infringement in box to end play before it progressed to the touchline, d) no visual indication she had awarded Boxx a retake on her first penalty, and e) generally slow and cowardly in her calls on the pitch. Accuracy is important, but this was just poor, poor command of the match, in my opinion. The referee is the authority on the pitch, and they need to grab and release attention very quickly; I thought Melkstam was slow and unsure, and it made the match sloppy at times.

    2. ESPN isn’ the only place that thinks it was for Hope Solo coming off her line. Here is an excerpt from Jessica Creighton’s article on BBC Sport:

      “The resulting penalty, superbly saved by Solo, had to be taken again after Australian referee Jacqui Melksham ordered a retake and booked Solo for encroachment.”

      I don’t think anybody knows why it was retaken and we will never know because the refs never have to explain themselves.

      1. That’s the fundamental problem, and again it stems from Melkstam’s unsure actions. She gave Solo a yellow. If it was for dissent, Solo would know why she was given the card, right? If it was for an encroachment outside the box, it wouldn’t have been Solo who was given the card. That leaves the GK coming off the line.

        But there were other inconsistencies. The lack of carding of Lloyd, as well as the intentional handball in the box by Aline (many times a straight red). Darke made a point that the card to Rapinoe for the foul after the whistle should have resulted in the flipping of possession. Just a royal screwup by the Australian official.

          1. Let me be the first to say I don’t think it was a PK in te first place. Sure Buehler had a handful of Marta’s jersey, but Marta had a handful of Buehler’s jersey. They were both pulling each other’s jersey and Marta’s fall came as a result of her lunging for the ball. It should have been a no call.

            Could someone explain why it was a red card instead of a yellow card for Buehler? From the replays it shows that Buehler was not the last man and last defender at the time of the foul.

          2. Rafael, it does not need to be the last person (after all, it is usually the goalkeeper!). The play must be understood as if it was a clear opportunity to score. If it is, then the player who fouled must get a red card.

  6. Such Hollywood thriller maybe entertain crowd , as long as it runs, but it is permanent gambling with high stakes.Sometimes you win sometimes you lose …If this becomes trade mark of all US soccer teams than this is no good.Girls must win France convincingly otherwise gonna be new thriller which can turn out bad.From Europe.

  7. I think those thrillers become trade mark of US soccer teams and this is not good…Maybe this can entertain crowds but does not look serious.Girls must win France WITHOUT thriller and prove they are powerhouse otherwise this is all Mickey Mouse soccer.

    1. Um, it’s not the 1990’s anymore where there’s two teams and a bunch of creampuffs in the WWC. There are many teams that are good and are suitable competition for each other. Just like in the men’s World Cup, most games will be close and competitive. That’s a good thing.

      What does Mickey Mouse have to do with this?

      1. It is like watching slow motion….Female simply do not have necessary energy to run 90 minutes,so that is why they can not execute their stations…That is why we can see unthinkable scene in the field.Empty penalty area because backers can not quickly run back after being too high in formation.(too tired)or striker alone,can read newspaper,(?)5 meters from goal while backers are ten meters from her…(Sweden-Australia )Counter attack while complete back line is 15 meters behind runner…From professional angle this is all bad..Tactically ,physically .But if you want entertaining no problem.You have tons of that.Obviously for most of US fans the only thing that matters is that US kick somebodies ass..No hard feelings.

  8. Nobody even mentions that the ESPN announcers don’t know there is 120 minutes in an OT game. ESPN needs to figure it out, quit going to guys that they think know soccer, guys the Euroidiots want.
    ESPN should be embarrassing for putting out the sexist, racist Darke in the first place. Then they have him for a WOMANS game.
    What a marooon.

    The being said, for color, I would take Foudy over Harkes, anyday. Please ESPN make it happen. It will never happen, we will be stuck with Harkes for the rest of our lives.

    Great game, exciting game but
    all of you guys drolling over the womans game are rediculous.
    ( Robert ageeing with you might be tip off )
    There is way too much open space on the field during these game. This is number 1 versus number 3 for pete sake. The woman’s game has a long way to go.

    I can hardly wait for Wednesday’s game. They need to start Alex Morgan.

    1. Charles when has Darke made sexist or racist comments? You sure your not confusing him with Andy Grey, but I don’t know how you would about his comments being that they were on SKY Sports and you hate everything not American.

      1. It was Darke and it was during the same game the Grey got fired.
        He kept talking about the female lineswoman, whether she was up to the task.

        He jumped all over a close offsides call, he would have never done that for a man. He was so excited, you would have thought someone had scored.
        It end up up being a….Well she got THAT call right, but there is a lot of pressure on her.
        He went on about it for 5 minutes. SHE GOT THE CALL RIGHT.
        He kept going the whole game, it was a disgrace. ESPN showing her pacing back and forth with the game, it was a disgrace.

        1. God you’re so dense.

          It was not Ian Darke who did that same game. Richard Keys was the one who was talking about it.

          And Foudy is horrible horrible horrible. I’m going to blast the TV if she brings up ’99 one more time.

          1. Ian Darke and Steve McManaman covered the match for ESPN. Your avatar doesn’t entitle you to act like a tool. Especially when you are 100% wrong. I watched the match in question.

          2. Dude that’s fine but all of the controversy was on Sky’s side.

            And those aren’t even ESPN’s cameras on that game. He’s thinking that Ian Darke and Andy Gray were the ones you made the sexist remarks.

            I swear you people just lose your minds over anything that isn’t American.

          3. Chill out SSReporters, you have NO idea what you are talking about.
            Then you called me Dense, when you are being so.

            Just admit you are wrong, you didn’t watch the ESPN game, and move on.

            IAN DARKE was the announcer that was sexist on the ESPN feed that I was watching. I don’t get Sky.

          4. OK, here I’ll try to clear this up.

            Gray and Keys were blatantly sexist on the Sky coverage. 100%, no doubt.

            I don’t think Darke’s rhetoric was quite as obvious as Gray and Keys, and so that’s a bit of a gray area (no pun intended).

            Charles isn’t necessarily wrong to assign a sexist bent to Darke’s words…he didn’t traverse into the obviously blatant area that Gray and Keys went, and so there’s room for interpretation.

          5. I watched the game on ESPN3 including the first goal that brought up her big moment on stage (which she aced).

            And saw Darke’s tweets after the game. Nothing about it was sexist.

            But thats okay, I really think we should just have American only announcers for all of our soccer coverage.

        2. It is a desperate attempt, because you have never heard anyone else complain about a game that you didn’t seem to watch.

          Hmmm, yeah that makes sense ( sarcarsm ).

          1. Yeah…I mean I followed the media brou-ha-ha about the Keys-Gray scandal pretty closely. I’m just surprised that if Darke said something sexist, not a single media source seemed to draw attention to that fact, even though they thoroughly scrutinized everything Keys and Gray had ever said. So perhaps it wasn’t anything particularly sexist?

            And since you’ve specifically called Darke a racist, while dodging any challenge to actually back-up that allegation, then sorry but I can’t take your account of the issue very seriously.

      2. Also, just because I don’t worship English announcers and literally could NOT care less about your Chelsea team, I hate everything not American. No that is rediculous.

        Oh yeah, my wife was born overseas too. So you might be off just a little….maybe ?

        1. I don’t worship English announcers, but I think the person doing the play-by-play should know what they are talking about and know when to talk. 99.9% of US soccer announcers are garbage and that .1% is JP. I wouldn’t want English announcers announcing baseball or football games because they wouldn’t know what they are talking about. I have watched a few of the Sounders games on MLS MatchDay Live and must say your annoucer is much better than the guy I have to listen to which is the New Jersey Devils announcer and Shep Messing. Unlike you Charles I don’t have tunnel vision and can appreciate more than one league. I watch the Redbulls every week because it is considered my “local” team and Chelsea when the EPL is going.

          Also I was refering to you hating everything not Amercian soccer. I am sure your wife is a lovely woman.

          1. That’s a pretty desperate attempt to portray Darke as a sexist (since you’re the only person I’ve ever heard try to implicate him in the Gray/Keys scandal), but what about the “racist” accusation. You shouldn’t say stuff like that and not back it up. When has he ever been racist?

            Foudy is awful. She really doesn’t know what she’s talking about. It’s pretty obvious to listen to her that she doesn’t really follow much football at all.

            p.s. I agree on the skill level. I get so annoyed when people say “the skill level is the same as [or better than] the men, it’s only the physical side that is different.” NO IT’S NOT! Even most of the women’s world cup teams would get schooled by any decent boys u15 side in terms of skill.

          2. I wasn’t talking specifics about the English announcers.
            I wasn’t accusing you in other words.

            I don’t hate other leagues. I could NOT care less about them, the idea of rooting for Chelsea while living in CT is bizzare. But I don’t hate you for doing so either.

            Our announcer is very good, but if they had given the American guy a chance ( 2-3 years ), he would have been better. The people that care the most forced him out.

          3. Charles
            I’m not sure if you were actually addressing my post, since the “reply” function on these longer threads gets pretty messed up. But I will respond anyway:

            I wasn’t talking specifics about the English announcers
            Yes you were – you specifically said: ESPN should be embarrassing for putting out the sexist, racist Darke in the first place. And yet you haven’t provided a single instance of him being racist. I think that’s a pretty big accusation to make without even trying to back it up.

  9. This was NOT better than the Algeria game and it upsets me that people would say that just because this just happened. The Algeria game was much, much, much more emotional.

    1. That’s fine, Derek. Everyone can have their own opinion. The Algeria match actually was the catalyst to my acceptance and love of the game. There is no doubt that Algeria was a huge match emotionally. Perhaps in two months my mind will change.

  10. I am all for non MLS talk on this site, but I find it a little upsetting that there is not an article on the huge Sounder Timber game yesterday. Whats up?

  11. Buehler grabbed Marta’s jersey? I could have sworn Buehler had position on the ball and Marta only fell after taking a big whiff on the ball. Alas, I can’t find the video of it…

    1. Ben you are correct–they both were grabbing each other and the contact did not cause Marta to fall. She leaped to kick the ball and missed.

      1. If anything, Buehler was the one who won the ball in that little tussle. Dependent on the angle of the referee, it is a marginal decision that could be seen in this light. I for one did not think it was a pen, either in real time or with the aid of replays.

        In either case, Solo was not signalled as off her line. If she had been, it is the assistant’s job to raise her flag and indicate the goalkeeper’s infraction.

        1. And as always, we’re talking subjective decisions. I tried to give a “down the middle, as the referee saw it” account of the situation. I’ve gone back and forth on this, but I think I’ve settled upon it being a poor call all around. The biggest argument for “play on” is that they were playing each other. Marta initiated contact to get around Buehler. But the theatrics deceived the referee, and made it look as though Buehler had held her back more drastically than what actually happened.

          We also have to realize that different federations have different referee styles. If there’s someone who watches Australian soccer leagues, any comment? Maybe Melkstam’s calls were influenced by the way infractions are called in her home federation. Just throwing out there for discussion.

        2. Yeah I thought so too. If anything, it was a foul by Marta, who seemed to be pulling Buehler back, and only fell because she was trying to climb over the defender.

          Oh well, I guess the next round will be Rachel Buehler’s Day Off.

  12. although the Brazilians turned the game around after trailing, it was dramatic comeback and win for the US. the entire game was full runs and energy..more or less like a final… that was a revenge by the US considering what happened the previous WWC. Well done US..

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