A number of things had to happen for the United States Women’s National Team to wrestle their dramatic win away from an overconfident Brazilian squad on a hot night at Rudolf-Harbig Stadium in Dresden, Germany.
Sure, Megan Rapinoe had to deliver a perfect cross – which she did. And Abby Wambach had to fight through the arms of Andreia and put Rapinoe’s ball into the net – which she did.
But another thing had to happen in order for one of the most dramatic moments in American sports to occur. Something less obvious, but perhaps more important. Something – dare I say it? – sinister.
Minutes before Rapinoe to Wambach, Brazilian center back Erika gingerly walked over to her keeper Andreia and collapsed in a heap of excruciating pain. Laying on the pitch, in complete and utter anguish, Erika was glued to the ground, milking the moments as Brazil clung to its 2-1 lead.
After moments of apparent agony, a stretcher was summoned. She covered her eyes. Her match was surely over. Ever so carefully, she placed herself onto the board, and allowed the training staff to carry her off, as if she could not overcome the immense pain and return to her feet.
Then, something astonishing occurred. Something so obvious and blatant that it momentarily distracted the enthralled crowd watching a nail-biter unfold.
Only a few paces off the pitch, the suddenly-cured defender sprang off the stretcher, and jogged over to the fourth official, ready to insert herself back into the game. A farce of the highest order, it was justifiably met with a downpour of jeers and whistles from the disapproving Dresden crowd.
Taking Erika’s theatrics into account, referee Jacqui Melksham – who controversially awarded a second penalty attempt to Brazil in the 66th minute after the first try was saved by Hope Solo – not only issued an immediate yellow card to the embelleshing defender upon her return, but also set her watch for additional stoppage time.
And it was just what the Americans needed to climb back and cast themselves onto the scoreboard.
With the 120th minute about to melt away, the assistant referee’s board signaled three minutes of stoppage time. Three extra minutes to keep hope alive. It was all the undermanned, but unshaken American side needed for vindication.
And as the final seconds of the match melted away with the scoreboard showing 2-1 in favor of Brazil, the United States gave it one more go. One more chance. With the odds mounting as time fleeted away, Rapinoe ran with it along the left, and looked for options. She saw Wambach.
Then, she delivered the cross of her career. And Wambach met it with a header that will not soon be forgotten. Goal. 2-2.
Of course, the high-stakes drama that was the World Cup quarterfinal did not end there. The score was level. A winner needed to be determined.
Enter the penalty kicks. The Americans converted all five, the exclamation point coming from the left foot of Ali Krieger.
Amid a whirlwind of a match, many forces and actions had to converge in order for the Americans to claim one of the biggest victories ever seen.
Yes, Rapinoe, who was by no means a sure pick for the World Cup roster, had to whip an impeccable pass. And yes, Wambach, who’s scoring touch had eluded her going into this tournament, had to time her leap expertly and nod the ball through a closing window. Without either moment of individual brilliance, the U.S. heads back home, and the Brazilians march on to the semifinals.
But, when Erika lay on the pitch in staged pain late in the second overtime, who would have thought that her theatrics would have set that perfect storm in motion?