USA strike gold
The United States seized their second Olympic football gold after a 2-1 Final victory (a.e.t.) against a breathtaking Brazil at the Karaiskaki stadium in Athens. A towering 112-minute Abby Wambach header gave many of the side's veterans, who are now expected to take their international bows, the perfect leaving present. Lindsay Tarpley had given the Americans the lead in the first half before Pretinha equalised as the South Americans dominated a high quality and seductive end game.
Brazil, who had been defeated 2-0 by the USA in the group stage, had been waiting for the chance for revenge ever since. Three minutes were on the clock when Rosana ended a jinking run with a fine curling 25 yarder that cleared the bar by inches. They went even closer three minutes later when Briana Scurry had to be at her best to turn aside a flashing drive from Elaine after another quick-fire counter attack by the girls from Brazil.
But April Heinrichs' team were not about to give up the ball as easily as they had done in the opening half of their first meeting. Fine work down the left by the underrated Kristine Lilly ended with Abby Wambach swivelling inside the penalty area and forcing a smart save low down by Andreia.
Tightly marked, Marta, the star of the first meeting between the teams, had not been able to get into the game up until then but she suddenly burst into the match mid-way through the opening period. Skipping, jumping and swerving around four or five Americans players, she had the Athens crowd singing her name.
As you would expect in a final, both teams were giving their all and a number of crunching tackles brought some ooohs among the animated audience. The selecao side were noticeably far more physical, while the Americans were giving as good as they were getting.
|Brazilian forward Pretinha (top) is congratulated by Daniela. AFP PHOTO DDP|
But it was the U.S. who struck in devastating fashion. The ball broke to Lindsay Tarpley 25 yards from goal and the midfielder advanced on goal before arrowing a peach of a shot into the corner to the screams of many in the stands (1-0, 39).
Quickly, Brazil were given a good opportunity to level when they were awarded an indirect free kick eights yards out. Finally, after several deflected efforts, the ball cannoned off Cristiane and was spectacularly fisted over by Scurry. From the resulting corner, Daniela fired just over from outside the box.
Increasingly tense, Brazil began to dominate in the second half. Ten minutes in, Marta's speed took her in front of Brandi Chastain but another Daniela hammer blow rocketed wide of the mark.
The canary shirts had hit the net 13 times, Cristiane five of them, since their defeat to the U.S. However while the forward's approach work continued to be excellent, the final ball was lacking against a seemingly impregnable American defence.
With 20 minutes to go the fascinating encounter rose another level. Marta had Scurry scurrying across her line to gather a deflected free kick, seconds before Lilly's header posed the same question of Andreia. Then Cristiane, who was proving there are more stars to the selecao other than Marta, outpaced Joy Fawcett, wriggled her hips and crossed low. This time Scurry palmed the ball into the onrushing Pretinha's path who gleefully tucked the present home (1-1, 73). It was a popular goal for the neutrals among the 10,000-strong crowd.
Cristiane was suddenly on fire. Two minutes later she turned inside her woman 25 yards and rifled a shot inches wide with Scurry beaten. A pair of minutes more, 77, she spun again onto the trusted left peg, curling another delicious shot that Scurry turned slowly to watch strike the foot of the post.
With time running out Wambach flew in as Andreia waited on a delicately chipped free kick but failed to connect with the goal gaping. Then two minutes from normal time, Simoes and hundreds in the stadium held heads in hands after Pretinha had run across the face of goal and, falling backwards, struck the same left post in the final piece of action in regulation time.
Heinrich's side had been defending for so long the had forgotten how to go forward while Simoes' girls were now in the groove. A deep cross from Rosana found Pretinha but the tiny forward's header fell straight at Scurry. Then rangy shots from Marta and Daniela gave the American keeper more work. Heinrich's stars needed a boost and Wambach almost provided it but her left footed shot sailed over.
There was no stopping Brazil though. Daniela and then Cristiane burst clear on goal but could not find the target.
Just as it seemed the game would end in penalties. Lilly swing in a corner and Wambach leaped powerfully to thunder a header Juliana could only help into the top corner of the net (2-1, 112).