Women's World Cup - USA beat Brazil on pens
Just like four years ago, it looked like Hope Solo would be leaving the Women’s World Cup with tears in her eyes and a burning sense of injustice.
Back in 2007, the United States goalkeeper’s torment took place from the bench after being left out of the line-up by then-coach Greg Ryan and in the interview zone after an ill-advised rant to a waiting journalist. A 4-0 semi-final loss to Brazil sent the Americans home and Solo was banished from the squad as a result of her outburst.
This time, even after 120 minutes had elapsed in a gripping quarter-final against Brazil on Sunday, it seemed as though the stage for Solo’s anguish would be the pitch at the Rudolf Hartig Stadion due to factors largely beyond her control.
“I didn’t want it to end the wrong way again,” Solo said. “I have waited a long time for this to come around again and I always kept the belief that it would end better this time.
“Some things happened on the field that we didn’t agree with but somehow it all worked out in the end and that shows how we never give up.”
In the end, the fury the US felt from the controversial nature of Brazil’s two goals only made its spectacular, dramatic and miraculous late comeback in Sunday’s 2-2 penalty-kicks triumph for the ages all the sweeter.
Solo had already had one moment of glory stripped away from her in the second half. With the Americans ahead 1-0 thanks to a bizarre early own goal, Rachel Buehler was sent off for fouling Marta in the penalty area after 65 minutes.
Solo guessed right and dived to push away Cristiane’s resulting penalty kick and thought she had preserved the advantage, only to be denied when referee Jacqui Melksham ruled that a USA defender had encroached on the box.
The kick was retaken this time by Marta, who made no mistake in scoring the tying goal. Battling on with 10 players, the Americans were dealt another body blow just three minutes into extra-time.
In a match that would eventually relive some of the parallel moments of the US men’s exhilarating World Cup run last summer, it was ironic that the goal came at the exact same point Bob Bradley’s side conceded against Ghana on the night it exited South Africa.
When Marta turned the ball inside Solo’s far post – the cross having come from a Brazilian player in an offside position – for a 2-1 Brazil lead, it seemed the outcome would be the same as the American men.
“We were facing an uphill challenge for sure,” Solo said. “Any time you are a goal down and a player short it is not going to be easy. This is just so sweet and so satisfying and now we know we have two more games to finish the job.”
“It has been a long road for me and I had some tough times to get here,” Solo said recently. “In life you get presented with opportunities and second chances and you have to take them.”
In 2007, Solo was denied the chance to claim a bronze medal with her team-mates, so she made herself her own from cardboard and shiny paper. Some redemption came a year later with a US victory in the Olympic gold medal game, but this was the true comeback story for the 29-year-old from Seattle. Yet it almost didn’t work out.
Extra time rumbled on and, though the depleted USA created chances, Brazil rode its luck, held firm and rolled around on the ground feigning injury to waste as much time as possible. How ironic that in the end it was in time added on for “injuries,” real or not, that saw the Americans snatch their lifeline.
Just as its tournament life was slipping away amid a swath of frustration, the US, from somewhere, produced a move of pure magic. Breaking from the back, Carli Lloyd held off three Brazil midfielders before setting Megan Rapinoe clear on the left. Rapinoe, whose energy had often gone unrewarded, produced a cross from the heavens and Abby Wambach majestically rose at the far post to direct a perfect header into the net.
And then it was time for the Solo show to take centre stage once more as the match moved to decisive penalty kicks. Cristiane, Marta and Francielle were too smart and too calm with their efforts, but Solo got in the head of Daiane, staring her down and jumping around on the line by way of distraction.
When Daiane’s kick lacked just a little pace, Solo sprung to life diving to her right and palming the ball to safety. With her team-mates notching a perfect five-for-five, capped off by Ali Krieger’s low strike that sparked wild celebrations, it was enough.
At the end, Solo and Wambach, the two chief heroes in a team packed with them, embraced, tackling each other to the ground and screaming with joy before rushing over to friends and family in the crowd.
“I really don’t know what to say,” said Wambach, shaking her head. “The history of this team has always been that we never give up. We have a locker room full of winners.”
On this night of nights for the USA, there was no bigger winner than its goalkeeper, a Solo performer who lifted her team on her shoulders and grabbed herself a long-awaited slice of redemption.