Tuesday, July 12, 2011

World Cup Coverage (re: fever)

Monday’s women’s match against Brazil had everything: yellow cards, a red card, missed and incorrect offside calls, overtime, penalty kicks, faked injuries, a clutch header goal, Brazil’s legendary ball-handling skills, and 120+ minutes of some of the most superbly conditioned athletes in the world.

At least on the U.S. side.

When the United States lost Rachel Buehler (and their lead) in the 65th minute, no one could tell from the feisty US offense that they were a man down. Despite their superior numbers, Brazil was often mere practice dummies for a steady stream of U.S. attacks, with Marta and Christiana as the lone protestors against the barrage of American efforts.

Still, each successive American corner kick came up empty—indeed without a decent shot on goal—despite quality effort.

Perhaps that’s why Wambach’s header had such a feeling of righteous justice behind it.

After 117 minutes of things going not quite right for the United States, the goal—from Rapinoe’s gorgeously-placed cross, off the head of Wambach, who rose above a defender and the keeper to place the ball neatly near-post—was too perfect for an ordinary game.

But before that, it’s difficult to figure out what was the worst moment for the Americans.

Option 1: The first red card and subsequent penalty kick debacle.

I believe the referee staff was operating under the new rule some might recognize from its little-known source, basketball: if someone fouls you when you’re shooting you get two penalty kicks to make up for the two points you, oh wait.

Hope Solo did what generations of goalies have been doing and shuffled to her left in a brilliant read. If one of her feet stepped a few inches off the line it had not only many a precedent, but also none of the flagrance of Brazil goalkeeper Andreia’s charge off the line on the first American penalty kick.

Solo read that first shot too well and the Americans paid the price with the score tying back up at 1-1.

Option 2: Some tricky Brazilian footwork, a missed offside call, and a tricky little Marta flick resulting in Brazil’s second goal.

I cannot deny the beauty of Marta’s touch out of the air or Christiane’s heart-stopping control with the ball at her feet. It is the stuff of Pele and Ronaldo, the stuff that Brazil is famous for—but it is the fondant icing on the cake of the beautiful game. What we saw Monday was the beauty of perfect cohesion of team triumphing over the brilliance of individual play.

But there was a moment there, after the 102nd minute, when things were looking pretty bleak.

Option 3: The last 15 minutes.

After playing for nearly an hour a man down, the Americans had to be tired. After playing all game without scoring a single goal (Daiana scored the first one, remember), despite constant energetic attempts, the Americans had to be wondering if it was possible.

At least, you’d think.

But the Americans seemed unfazed and determined, steadily punching the ball outside and getting the ball in the box—either through a cross, a corner, or that memorable moment when one of our girls was battered into the grass and the referee remained unconcerned.

Play on.

After the Wambach goal—or can I say the Rapinoe cross?—everything turned the other way. Brazil had failed to capitalize on a 55-minute numbers advantage, lost their lead in the remaining seconds, and was now facing possibly the best goalie in the world.

Five superb American shots and a world-class save later, the Americans are getting ready for the French.

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