Revenge-seekers miss out in riveting rematches
THE DAY REPLAYED - Revenge was in the air at the last two matches of the Women's Olympic Football Tournament. Finalists Brazil were seeking to make good an unlucky 2-0 group stage defeat at the hands of the USA, while third-place play-off contenders Sweden had a score to settle with Germany dating back to the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup Final. As it turned out, both Brazil and Sweden created a wealth of chances, and both did enough to have won on another day, but both trudged from the field as losers again. In a nail-biting Final, American experience triumphed over Brazilian youth, a 2-1 win after extra-time sealing a second Olympic gold to add to the 1996 success on home soil in Atlanta. In an equally exciting third place play-off, world champions Germany squeezed out a 1-0 success to pip the Swedes to the bronze. Midfielder Renate Lingor scored the winner with the help of a nightmare blunder by Sweden keeper Caroline Joensson. It was the devastated Swedes' third successive defeat to Germany in end-of-tournament showdowns following the 2001 European Championship Final and the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup Final.
Brazil faced the USA for the second time in just over a week, intent on showing greater aggression compared with the group stage meeting. Marta and company demonstrated a willingness to mix it physically from the kick-off. Rosana and Elaine came close in the first few frantic minutes of an absorbing contest, but the USA held firm and clawed their way back into it, Abby Wambach's ninth-minute drive bringing a good save out of keeper Andreia. Driven on by 18-year-old wunderkind Marta, the Brazilians turned in a memorable display, but the disciplined Americans took the match by the scruff of the neck and nosed in front thanks to Lindsay Tarpley's sharp 25 metre drive. Cristiane had Brazil's best chance from seven metres out four minutes before the break but veteran keeper Briana Scurry pulled off a magnificent reflex stop.
The Americans came out for the second period determined to stamp their authority on proceedings, but Marta continued to cause havoc, teeing up Daniela on 56 minutes for a 20 metre drive just past the post. Kristine Lilly should have doubled the margin but missed from close range on 72 minutes, and the wasted chance proved costly as Pretinha tapped home the equaliser in the very next move just a minute later. Cristiane and Pretinha then each hit an upright on 77 and 87 minutes as the USA rearguard wobbled badly. The tension got to the fourth official who almost forgot to display the time added on for stoppages, before she herself was called into action as a replacement for injured ref Jenny Palmquist.
Marta was cheered back onto the pitch for extra-time by her Swedish international club-mates from Umeå, and the Brazil playmaker responded by laying on decent opportunities for Cristiane after 98 and 105 minutes. The USA began to tire in their second period of extra time within three days, but in a courageous last stand Wambach first shaved the crossbar with 100 minutes played before rising to nod home what proved to be the clincher, handing her side a 2-1 advantage after 112 minutes.
Germany cling on for bronze
The bronze medal match saw a repeat of the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup Final between Sweden and Germany. The world champions featured seven of last year's triumphant team in their starting line-up and the Scandinavians no fewer than ten beaten finalists, with only Karolina Westberg forced to the sidelines with injury. Sweden last beat Germany at the 2002 Algarve Cup, and Hanna Ljungberg alone might have put an end to her side's losing streak, but the striker saw three goalbound efforts beaten away by outstanding German keeper Silke Rottenberg, celebrating her 100th cap with a magnificent display. The custodian parried Ljungberg's 20th minute diving header before pulling off breathtaking close-range stops on 21 and 58 minutes.
There were chances at both ends in an entertaining fixture. Sweden keeper Caroline Joensson emulated her opposite number on numerous occasions only to drop a fatal clanger after 17 minutes as she allowed a Renate Lingor shot to slip through her hands in an eerie echo of a similar howler in Sweden's opener against Japan. Birgit Prinz could have settled the issue either side of half-time but the 2003 FIFA Player of the Year failed to capitalise on both occasions. Both sides wilted in the heat after the interval although Sweden subs Lotta Schelin and Linda Fagerström added drive, if not creativity, late in the game. But by this time the Germans had massed in defence and survived a frenetic last few minutes with a combination of skill and good fortune.
Brazil and Sweden went into the day with high hopes, but revenge over the USA and Germany will now have to wait for the next major tournament. Nonetheless, women's football was the real winner on a fittingly dramatic Olympic evening.