There is no doubt that one of the biggest threats to Brazil in
their semi-final meeting with USA will come from Abby Wambach. And
it is not just the American's superb form at China 2007 that
has the South Americans worried.
Many in the squad still have bitter memories of the towering striker's header that denied them the gold medal in the final of the Women's Olympic Football Tournament in 2004. Wambach's 112th-minute effort, which came after Pretinha had cancelled out Lindsay Tarpley's first-half strike, secured a 2-1 triumph for April Heinrichs' team. Given that the fateful goal from the University of Florida striker came from a corner, it was no surprise to find the Canarinhas practising defending set-pieces in their final training sessions ahead of Thursday's showdown.
Recalling events of of 26 August 2004, goalkeeper Andreia told FIFA.com: "It was a very sad day for us. I think I must have cried for three full days, replaying every move in my mind. With time, I've come to value my Olympic silver medal, but I still prefer not to recall that defeat. For as long as I've been keeping goal for the team, I've never been on the winning side against the USA. For the last eight years we've always lost out narrowly to them. This time I'm sure it will be different."
Andreia's resolve sums up the mood in a Brazil squad which
contains no fewer than nine members of the side that played in that
final in Athens. Five other squad members were on the bench, with
the likes of Renata Costa and Maycon getting a few minutes'
playing time. The USA squad, meanwhile, boasts seven players who
started in Athens and three more who were among the substitutes.
Goalkeeper Briana Scurry, who is set to replace regular custodian Hope Solo for the semi-final, was between the sticks that day at the Karaiskaki Stadium. "That was the most recent really significant game between the two sides, and I think anyone who watched it will remember it for a long time. I was incredibly happy at the final whistle. We'd come up against a great Brazilian side who played extremely well that day, just as we did. That's why it was such an epic battle. Either team would have been worthy winners of that tournament, no doubt about it," recalls the veteran keeper.
Another member of the Stars and Stripes delegation with high praise for the South Americans is coach Greg Ryan. "We have to recognise how well Brazil played at those Olympics as well as in recent times," said Ryan, who took the US helm in 2005. "They're a very talented side, but we have a good record against them. The stats may be on our side, but I recall they played tremendously well in that Olympic final, and we were very fortunate to emerge victorious."
Brazil's Cristiane would be the first to agree with Ryan's assessment that luck was on the side of USA that day, the striker having seen her shot cannon off the crossbar on 78 minutes to deny the Seleção what could have been the winning goal. "Yes," she said with a wry smile, "I think about that move from time to time, but this time it will be different. If I get another chance like that, I'll bury it."
For his part, Brazil coach Jorge Barcellos insisted Thursday's game was not about settling old scores. "No, I don't want to talk about revenge. All I want is an entertaining and good-natured game of football," said the man who knows what it is like to taste victory over the Americans. In the match for third place at last year's FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship in Russia, Barcellos's side got the better of their rivals on penalties after playing out a 0-0 draw under torrential rain at the Lokomotiv Stadium in Moscow.
Interestingly, the Brazilians have finished their recent training sessions in Hangzhou by practising penalty kicks. Could that be a mere coincidence, or a portent of things to come?