It had to have been the most controversially officiated game I’ve ever watched. Dresden, Germany became Drama Central for the quarterfinal matchup between two of the game’s powerhouse teams. You know what they say about karma—Brazil was on the receiving end of it and when all was said and done, justice was rightfully served.
This amazing, epic come-from-behind victory comes on the 12th anniversary, to the day, of the US Women’s second World Cup title, when Brandi Chastain netted the game-winning penalty kick against China and presented the sports' American fan base with her famous “sports bra celebration” that we all proudly remember to this day.
The USA started with an unmatched energy from the beginning whistle and scored just a mere 74 seconds into the game. It ended up being an own-goal on Brazil’s defender, but at this stage (where if you lose, you go home), you’ll take a goal any way you can get it.
The first 20 minutes belonged to the US, who continuously pressured the highly scrutinized Brazilian defensive line. They generated chances, but could not find a second goal in the first half. Brazil responded, after finally waking up, by cranking up their pressure for the remainder of the first half—coming close to scoring on several occasions.
It was during the transition between halves that Germany became the new site of Drama Central.
Brazil is widely known for their ability to score within the first five-to-ten minutes of the second half, so the US had to be very careful in the opening stages of the last 45 minutes, still nursing a 1-0 lead.
It was in the 66th minute that the scope of the game severely shifted—and the US was on the wrong end of it.
Marta, Brazil’s world-class goal scorer, found herself in the box with the ball, surrounded by two US defenders. She was able to pop the ball up over Rachel Buehler’s head and get around her. Buehler and Marta both had their arms extended on each other and as Marta jumped to strike the ball, Buehler bodied her a bit.
They both hit the ground hard as Hope Solo scooped up the ball and ran out to continue play. However, the whistle had blown. The referee pointed to the penalty and proceeded to pull out a card. A red card. A straight red card.
It was one of those moments where you are so confused about what is taking place that it doesn't register right away. Was the red card for real? Was it for Marta or Buehler? Did she dive? Yes, the red card was for real. It was for Buehler’s “tackle.”
Referee, what are you doing?
Being a soccer player myself, I know I speak for soccer players everywhere when I say that I get incredibly annoyed and irritated when referees decide they need to be the center of attention and a determining factor in the outcome of a game. This was happening to the US at that exact moment. Maybe it was a PK, maybe not. But in no way, shape or form was it a straight red card.
This was just the beginning of a string of controversial decisions.
On the ensuing penalty kick, Cristiane, another of Brazil’s top scorers, stepped up to take the kick. Hope Solo, regarded as one of the best, if not the best, goalkeepers in the world, awaited the attempt on her goal line. Let's review FIFA Law 14:
"The defending goalkeeper must remain on his goal line, facing the kicker, between the goalposts until the ball has been kicked.”
The referee blew her whistle, Cristiane struck the ball and Hope Solo stretched out and saved the shot, keeping the game at 1-0 in favor of the US. The ball ricocheted off Solo’s hands and went out of bounds. She and her teammates celebrated in a quick manner, but it was for naught. The referee signaled for the PK to be retaken, much to the surprise of...everyone.
At the time, no one was certain what it was being retaken for. The most relevant reason was that Solo had moved off the line before the ball was played. Every viewer tuned into the game was shown a replay of the kick and subsequent save, only to determine that everything was legal. As stated by Law 14, Solo remained on her line and as the ball was kicked, she dove and made the save.
Then came another view of the same kick. There was also a US player encroaching the area before the ball was played. This, by rule, is illegal and is typically up to the referee’s discretion. During this specific attempt, the encroaching player, who was only a half step into the area, had no bearing on the result of the play and therefore should not have been the reason to retake the kick.
So, in either case, there should not have been a second penalty kick. That second kick, of course, was taken by Marta and converted, tying the game up at one.
Brazil had seized all of the momentum and was now up a player with the US down to 10 after Buehler was sent off. The odds were stacked a mile high against the US. There were still over 20 minutes left in the game and it seemed Brazil smelled blood in the water.
With fatigue starting to set in on both teams, the US was able to withstand the Brazilian attack and finish regulation time, knotted at one. As weird as it sounds, the US actually played better and possessed the ball more with their 10-player lineup.
Brazil’s Marta scored her second goal of the game in the second minute of the first overtime period, giving Brazil a 2-1 advantage. This goal, like the first, came with controversy. Upon video replay, the play resulting in the goal should have been ruled offside.
However, Maurine (the player offside) was able to receive the ball and cross it to Marta, whose first-touch “shot” found the back post and bounced into the net. Some called it world-class, but it was more luck than anything.
With the US getting screwed again on another call leading to a goal, they had their backs against the wall. Fortunately for them, the overtime periods are not golden goal, which would have meant Brazil would have advanced to the semifinal. They are, instead, two 15-minute periods. Then, if the score is still tied, the two teams go on to penalty kicks.
The 10-woman lineup for the US still generated chances on free kicks and corners, but could not find an equalizer in the first overtime period. With only 15 minutes potentially remaining in their World Cup endeavor, the US, with much support from their American fans and even much of the neutral fans present, trotted back out for the second period.
Back and forth, the US and Brazil exchanged chances and scoring opportunities. Time was ticking away. The clock was now an enemy to the US, along with the whistle-blower and the Brazilians. It was a steep, steep mountain to climb. It seemed impossible.
It seemed like no matter what the US could muster up, the ball just wouldn’t go in—they were going home early. But they only needed one chance. Just one chance.
Enter the 122nd minute. In the second of three minutes of extra time, Megan Rapinoe crossed the ball to the backside of the Brazilian box. There, unmarked, was a wide-open Abby Wambach. Doing what Abby does best, she headed the ball convincingly into the back of the net, sending both the stadium and all American fans watching on TV into a hysterical frenzy of pure jubilation.
Leading up to the 122nd minute, Erika, a Brazilian defender, dropped in the box, appearing to have suffered a back injury. Seeing this, I knew it was merely wasting time. The ref called for the stretcher and they came out and took her off the field.
Only getting 10 steps off the pitch, Erika hopped right off the stretcher, showing no signs of injury whatsoever. She reentered the game and consequently received a deserved yellow card. Terrible gamesmanship. And oh how it would come back to bite her (and her team).
For the time it took to treat and cart her off the field, time was added to the end of the period. So, while the game should technically have ended at the 120:00 mark, that wasted time was tacked on to the end—hence the term “extra time.” With the fourth official determining there would be three minutes of extra time, there was one last hope for the US.
Literally in the last seconds of the game, Rapinoe found Wambach’s head on the far post and she buried it into the back of the net to tie the game and send it to a penalty shootout. The hard part had been done. It only seemed fair to the US that they have the opportunity to win the contest by beating Brazil on penalty kicks.
There have never been five more well-taken, calm, cool and composed penalty kicks in American soccer.
Each US player stepped up, knowing where she was going to place the ball. The US shot first, with Brazil matching each of the first two shots. After the US converted their third PK, it was Hope Solo’s time to shine. After being fooled on the first two shots, she read this next one like a book. She dove perfectly to her right and saved Daiane’s shot. The US again converted another PK, as did Brazil.
In a fitting ending, Ali Krieger, who played professionally in Germany, was the fifth US player in the PK shootout. It was only a few years earlier that she nearly lost her life due to blood clots in her lungs. But here she was, representing the Red, White and Blue, with the potential to send her team through to the semifinal, in what would be considered one of the greatest victories in US soccer history.
Just like the four shots preceding hers, Krieger struck the ball with pace and buried it in the left corner of the net, ending the game and putting the Americans through.
What seemed like an impossible task became an incredible victory and a representation of the grit, will, determination and resiliency of this US team.
They have been scrutinized in the months leading up to the Cup, for subpar efforts in several tune-up matches. They may not have played their best game, or had the referee’s decisions in their favor, but their stick-to-it mentality was resounding. Their composure flawless. And their team victory? Well, that was epic.