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U.S. women rise to moment in World Cup

DRESDEN, Germany — Running low on hope and almost out of time, the Americans surely were beaten, about to make their earliest exit from the Women’s World Cup.

And then, with one of the most thrilling goals in U.S. soccer history, they weren’t.

Showing a dramatic burst, the Americans packed an entire World Cup’s worth of theatrics into a 15-minute span by beating Brazil 5-3 on penalty kicks after a 2-2 tie Sunday.

Abby Wambach tied it with a magnificent, leaping header in the 122nd minute, and Hope Solo denied the Brazilians — again — in one of the most riveting World Cup games ever.

“There is something special about this group. That energy, that vibe,” Solo said. “Even in overtime, you felt something was going to happen.”

The United States advanced to Wednesday’s semifinals against France, which beat England on penalty kicks Saturday. And while the Americans will have to win twice more to win the final, they are the only favorite left after two-time defending champ Germany was stunned by Japan on Saturday.

The U.S. victory came 12 years to the day the Americans’ last caught their country’s attention in a big way with their penalty-kick shootout victory over China at the Rose Bowl that gave them their second World Cup title. This one created enough of a buzz that highlights were shown on the Jumbotron at Yankee Stadium, drawing big cheers.

For Brazil, it was yet another disappointment at a major tournament. And this one is sure to sting worse, because Marta had it won for the Brazilians, scoring her second goal of the game in the second minute of overtime for the 2-1 lead. But Erika stalled when she went down on a tackle, and the delay added three minutes of stoppage time.

That was all the time Wambach and the Americans needed, after pushing themselves to limit while playing a woman short because of Rachel Buehler’s 66th-minute ejection.

“Not for one second,” Wambach said when asked if she ever felt the Americans were beaten. “I kept saying, all it takes is one chance. I kept holding up one finger to the girls.”

Two minutes into stoppage time, Megan Rapinoe blasted a left-footed cross from 30 yards out on the left side that Brazil goalkeeper Andreia didn’t come close to getting her hands on. Wambach, one of the best players in the world in the air, made contact and with one furious whip of her head, buried it in the near side of the net from about five yards.

“I took a touch and smoked it,” Rapinoe said. “I don’t think I’ve ever hit a cross with my left foot that well. And then that beast in the air got ahold of it.”

Wambach let out a primal scream and slid into the corner, pumping her fists and quickly mobbed by teammates. No goal had ever been scored that deep into a World Cup game.

“Everything seemed to be on the safe side, but it wasn’t,” Brazil coach Kleiton Lima said. “Unfortunately there was the goal.”

The Americans, shooting first, made their three penalty kicks only to have Cristiane and Marta easily match them. But then it was Daiane’s turn — the same Daiane who’d given the U.S. a 1-0 lead with an own goal in the second minute of the game. She took a hard shot, but Solo stretched out and batted it away. Though the Americans still had to make two more, the celebration already was starting.

After Rapinoe blistered the net with a blast and Ali Krieger converted hers, the Americans raced onto the field, their joy matched by that of the pro-American crowd of 25,598. Wambach tackled Solo and U.S. coach Pia Sundhage even broke out her air guitar when AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” began to play.

“It is a special moment for me and for this team,” Solo said.

While the Americans partied, Marta and the Brazilians watched in silence. Cristiane repeatedly wiped away tears during postgame interviews. Despite a star-filled roster led by Marta, the FIFA player of the year five times running, Brazil has never won a major tournament. It lost to the Americans in the two Olympic gold-medal games, and to Germany in the 2007 World Cup final.

Marta’s goals, the 13th and 14th of her career, tied her with Birgit Prinz atop the all-time World Cup scoring list. The Americans also have won their last five meetings against Brazil.

None, however, was more memorable than this.

Brazil spotted the Americans the lead in the second minute with an own goal. Daiane misdirected a clearance, then spent the next 63 trying furiously for the equalizer — and getting increasingly frustrated with every minute they didn’t get it.

When they finally did, it was clouded in controversy.

Marta made a dangerous run into the box in the 65th, beating two U.S. defenders and coming practically nose to nose with Solo before Buehler tracked back and dragged her down. Australian referee Jacqui Melksham not only ruled it a penalty but a red card as well. Cristiane took the kick. Solo made a perfect read and smacked it away, pumping her fists.

But Melksham ordered the penalty retaken — and gave Solo a yellow card, ruling the American had left her line or a teammate encroached the penalty area before the kick was taken. Replays clearly showed Solo was on her line.

“I have no idea,” Solo said. “It is what it is.”

As the crowd jeered, Marta stepped up for the retake, staring down her old foe. Solo cost Marta and the Brazilians the gold medal in Beijing, stopping a point-blank blast from Marta in the 72nd minute of the Olympic final. This time, Marta got the best of the Solo, burying the ball to pull the Brazilians even.

Marta’s goal in the 92nd minute seemed to put the game out of reach. But the Americans’ resilience was on full display.

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