Last Updated: Tue Jul 12, 2011 01:29 am (KSA) 22:29 pm (GMT)

Richard Burchfield: Resilience equals excellence in US women’s fight to the finish

Players of the US celebrate after beating Brazil in the quarter-final match of the FIFA women's football World Cup. (GETTY Photo)
Players of the US celebrate after beating Brazil in the quarter-final match of the FIFA women's football World Cup. (GETTY Photo)

It’s a game that is widely debated for acceptance in the United States. Yes, soccer, fútbol, football – no matter how you say it, we all know the game. And in a country where women’s sports still takes the back seat to men’s, there was seemingly a common disinterest in the tournament, even when it was being played on the world’s biggest stage for women’s soccer.

As a soccer enthusiast, fan, and former collegiate player, for me, this year’s Women’s World Cup in Berlin seemed to lack the serious allure that would regularly keep people glued to the television or computer screen. But the USA vs. Brazil quarterfinal match-up should have snapped soccer fans back into reality like a good slap in the face.

The game started off like a bad dream, seeing Brazilian defender Daiane knock in an own goal in the second minute of the game, putting USA on top early. Although this went to favor the American side, an own goal is one of those plays in sports that nobody really likes to see, scoring by default is by no means honorable. The game continued in typical fashion, a good pass here, a bad pass there, a couple shots too high or too wide, and a pair of yellow cards flying at the end of the first half.

The game really took off when a 66th-minute penalty committed by USA defensive player Rachel Buehler proved to be a turning point in the match – referee Jacqui Melksham whipped out a red card, ejecting Buehler and awarded Brazil a penalty kick. USA goalkeeper Hope Solo stopped a fierce shot by Brazil standout Marta, but was called back after Solo supposedly encroached the line, a foul that would lead to a re-take of the penalty, of course this time Marta slid it past Solo to even the score.

Playing a woman down, the USA fought as hard as they could to keep the Brazilian attack at bay, but in the 92nd-minute of the 30 minute overtime period, Brazil’s Marta put in a slicing, reverse chip shot that left the USA women stunned after the assisting cross looked to be offside after the replay, and where the assistant referee appeared to miss the call.

Now down 2-1, USA was also battling an officiating crew that was missing calls that professionals just shouldn’t miss that seemed to favor the Brazilian side. Even the poor display of sportsmanship by Brazil’s Erika didn’t help; the Brazilian defender fell to the ground after a pitiful display of acting, then jumped off the injury stretcher like divine intervention possessed her to play again, and then took the field, running in stride like nothing at all had happened. She received a yellow card for wasting about five minute’s time.

But in the 120th-minute, in a last ditch, no-holds barred effort by the USA women, a perfect cross by USA midfielder Megan Rapinoe sailed over two Brazilian defenders, barely missing the outstretched arms of the Brazilian goalkeeper, and connected with striker Abby Wambach’s head to make it to the back of the net – evening the score again to 2-2. Ending time of regulation saw the USA women prevail in a penalty shootout, where the USA women bested the Brazilian side by a difference of one penalty goal.

This win falls on the 12th anniversary of USA player Brandi Chastain’s infamous World Cup winning penalty shot, ending in a jersey peeling, sports bra revealing knee slide that sticks in my mind as the most iconic moment in all of women’s sports. But what seems a more important story here is that, with all odds against them, back against the wall, the women of this year’s USA World Cup team stood above the rest.

It’s often so easy for players to lie down and pass on the blame to bad calls and debauched officiating, but proudly this is not the case. Here, we saw a group of strong willed, triumphant women, who showed the world one of history’s most brilliant conclusions, in any sport. Somehow, I believe this epic win by the ladies wearing red, white, and blue in Germany will rekindle the fire that women’s sports held after the Chastain goal and will resonate with a new generation of fans in the world of women’s sports.

(Richard Burchfield is an intern at Al Arabiya’s Washington, DC bureau and is a participant in The Fund for American Studies & the Institute on Political Journalism at Georgetown University (DC). He can be reached at richard.burchfield@mbc.net)

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