In a world where sports is synonymous with ego, contracts, money, and scandal – the FIFA Women’s World Cup (now 20 years old) is a return to all that is good, right and beautiful in the world. No strikes, no steroids, no rapes, no murders. Just sport and play for the love of the game, in the name of one’s country, for all the world’s viewing pleasure.
There was no reason the U.S. women should have won. Not when their first goal of the game went in off a Brazilian defender. And not when they were given a controversial red card and Brazil was awarded a penalty kick which was to be denied by the captivatingly formidable Hope Solo only then to have the save denied with another controversial call by the ref which allowed Marta to nail the recovery penalty kick in and consequently leave the United States to play a woman down for the remaining 25 minutes in the second half with the scoreboard at 1-1.
And certainly not when the lightning speed and talent of said Marta made for a dire situation when her shot on goal reached the far post, out of Solo’s reach, and into the net to give Brazil a 2-1 lead in overtime.
But somehow, someway – the United Statues made magic happen when Megan Rapinoe sent a beautiful cross that connected with Abby Wambach who headed it in:
With only one minute left on the clock, the U.S. was able to even the score.
Despite all the fakery and theatrics of Brazil’s bombastic cast (watch how Brazil player #13 just pops off the stretcher), they were unable to beat the heart, soul and spirit of the United States in the final minutes of play.
You didn’t have to be a soccer fan, or sports fans, or even a fan of the United States to appreciate the moment. You only needed to be human to understand the sheer determination and collective will that took to make the tying goal and the ultimate victory happen.
In the final overtime penalty kick shootout, it was solid refereeing that recalled a block by an overzealous Brazilian goalkeeper, a tremendous and fair block by Hope Solo, and the unanimous execution of the United States team to deliver one of the finest matches in soccer history.
Fortitude, resilience, tenacity, mental toughness, calm under pressure, execution – these are the hallmarks of greatness. And no single player for the United States team could claim them individually. Ever single player on the field stepped up, dug deep and produced them as one unstoppable unit. You can watch all the highlights from the game at FIFA.com.
Now, heading into the semifinals, the U.S. faces similar opponents in Japan (an underdog who knocked out perennial powerhouse Germany and has never made it to the semifinals), France (who dismantled soccer royalty, England) and Sweden (who beat the United States in the group stage) - teams that drew upon their own unique strengths and depths to make it to the final four.
This final week will be soccer at it’s best, a sport that is embraced by world, played by both men and women, and is a pointed reminder that women (who in parts of the world are still struggling for their right to vote, to get an education, and to simply show their faces) can not only rock out as athletes, but can do it damn well.