Revenge the dish as US, Brazil renew rivalry
THE DAY REPLAYED - In a rematch of their tumultuous first-round encounter, Brazil and the USA are to meet again in the Final of the Women's Olympic Football Tournament. The group game between the two sides ended in a 2-0 win for the Americans, prompting Brazil manager René Simoes to say that her team desperately wanted the chance to take revenge. The South Americans earned that right - and a place in their first-ever Olympic Final - by edging out Sweden 1-0 in a tightly-fought semi-final this evening. The USA made it three finals in three appearances by overcoming Germany 2-1 a.e.t. In the Final, such American legends of the women's game as Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and Julie Foudy will be bidding to go out in a blaze of glory. Their Brazilian opponents, in contrast, will be hoping to mark their arrival as a world force in the most emphatic fashion possible.
Americans prevail in tense clash
United States versus Germany was a re-run of the semi-final of the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup™, and though it may not have produced the sort of flamboyant skills we have seen in previous matches in this tournament, the sheer suspense of this meeting made it gripping. German Football Association (DFB) President Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder was among the spectators in Heraklion's Pankrito Stadium, but if he was hoping to see his compatriots repeat their powerful quarter-final display, he was to be disappointed, as the Americans took control of midfield from early on.
After half an hour, Lindsay Tarpley and Abby Wambach were both presented with fine chances to grab the lead for the US, but neither could apply the finishing touch. The Americans were not to be denied for much longer though, as they broke the deadlock in the 33rd minute, when Kristine Lilly executed a delightful one-two with Wambach before rifling the ball past Silke Rottenberg, who did not cover herself in glory in the German goal. The world champions looked a pale shadow of themselves and moments later they nearly feel even further behind, but Mia Hamm's shot missed by inches.
The half-time interval gave the Germans a chance to regroup but the start of the second period merely signalled more of the same. In the 52nd minute the Americans came close to snatching a second goal but were unable to punish a dreadful mix-up in the German defence. Things did not look like improving for Tina Theune-Meyer's charges as they simply could not find any answer to the American supremacy in midfield and but for some sloppy finishing by Hamm, Lilly and Wambach, the score could have taken on a rather embarrassing look for the Europeans. The Americans were to pay for their profligacy, as deep into time added-on Isabell Bachor let fly with a shot that took a wicked deflection off Joy Fawcett before beating Briana Scurry in the US goal to give the Germans an improbable equaliser. For the first time in the Women's Olympic Football Tournament, a match went into extra time.
Both teams really went for it in extra time and the fans were finally treated to the sort of flowing football that had been in such short supply for the first 90 minutes. There was no doubt that the Americans had been the better team throughout normal time, so it was perhaps fitting that it was they who ultimately prevailed. Ironically, the victory for the competition's "grannies" was sealed by their youngest squad member, 19-year-old Heather O'Reilly, who, in the 99th minute, applied the finishing touch after some exquisite work by Hamm. The Americans were ecstatic, but if they are to get their hands on the Gold medal they crave, they will have to find a way past Brazil in the Final.
Brazil bid for double revenge as they reach first-ever Final
This semi-final pitted two lavishly talented teams against each other but took a while to get going. The first half did not prove as entertaining as had been anticipated, as neither team managed to find any real pattern to their play. Marta exhibited her usual trickery, but the Swedes had obviously seen the damage her partnership with Cristiane had already wrought in the competition and vigilantly snuffed out their threat.
While they were defensively diligent, Sweden did not offer much going forward. They nonetheless managed to pose the first real goal-threat of the game, when Anna Sjoestroem whipped in a fine cross that very nearly forced Monica to turn the ball into her own net.
A few minutes before the break, the Brazilians finally came close to scoring at the right end of the pitch. Marta and Cristiane at last managed to combine effectively, leaving Cristiane to fire a vicious centre across the face of the goal, which Pretinha tried to touch home with her outstretched leg but missed by a mater of millimetres. The excellent Pretinha, who is surprisingly without a club at the moment, then had a second chance, and this time she seized it gleefully. It came on the hour mark, when Marta delivered a good ball into Formiga, who let it roll through her legs to Pretinha. The Brazilian rounded the 'keeper and whipped the loose ball into the net from an acute angle for the only goal of the game.
The result was a fair one, since after an even first period Brazil were clearly superior in the second half. The victory could even have been more comfortable, but Cristiane failed to convert a slew of chances that came her way. The best player on display was unquestionably Marta, who at just 18-years of age is the play-maker par excellence. The Swedes, meanwhile, were very disappointing, failing to muster the slightest shot on target. The South Americans thus exacted revenge for their 2-1 defeat to Sweden in the quarter-final of the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup. On Thursday 26 August, they will have the opportunity to avenge another bitter memory when they take on the USA. Brazil's first-ever Olympic Final, indeed their first major final of any kind, should be a special occasion for their players. The only question that remains is what colour medal will they take home?