September 27, 2007, 10:16 am
Brazil Delivers U.S. a Stunning World Cup Exit
By Jeré Longman
Brazil womens team, US womens team, Womens World Cup
It is difficult to imagine a more complete collapse than the one the United States suffered in a 4-0 defeat to Brazil on Thursday in the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup in China.
A risky switch to Briana Scurry in goal, an own goal by Leslie Osborne and a controversial ejection of Shannon Boxx late in the first half all contributed to a stunning exit.
Marta and her Brazil teammates celebrate the team’s second goal against the United States in Hangzhou. (Greg Baker/Associated Press)
Almost everything that could have gone wrong did. The United States again struggled to possess the ball against a technically superior team. Set pieces were unproductive. Left with no service, Abby Wambach and Heather O’Reilly were all but invisible at forward. The defense was porous, clumsy and frantic even before Boxx was sent off.
For a second consecutive World Cup, the United States was dismissed in the semifinals. It will now have to settle for the consolation of a third-place match on Sunday against Norway. Brazil, which received two goals from its wondrous forward Marta, advances to the final against defending-champion Germany.
Scurry, who had played only seven matches this year, appeared rusty in the early going. The decision to start her by Coach Greg Ryan was widely criticized as being unnecessary, disruptive and panicky. The switch not only contributed to the American defeat but may contribute to the insecurity of Ryan’s job.
His team, ranked No. l in the world, lost for the first time since March of 2006, but this defeat was as total as it was astonishing. And Ryan will be second-guessed by nearly everyone, including his players.
Perhaps more than anything, the defeat demonstrated just how talented and assured the previous teams of Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers were in winning the World Cup in 1991 and 1999, while this American side never truly reached its top form through the tournament.
A disappointed Briana Scurry could do little to prevent Leslie Osborne from deflecting the ball into her own goal. (Julie Jacobson/Associated Press)
In the rubble of Thursday’s defeat, Ryan’s decision to start Scurry looks suspect, but the coach had his reasons.
He was no different from a baseball manager playing the percentages with a certain hitter or pitcher. Previously, Scurry was 12-0 against Brazil, having pitched 8 shutouts. She was in goal for a friendly in June, when the United States defeated Brazil 2-0.
Even though Scurry is 36, she had surer hands, greater anticipation, quicker lateral movement and better reflexes than Solo. I thought she was more prepared to handle chaos in front of the goal. No one has responded more confidently and sturdily in the pressure situations of a World Cup.
Solo has never played against Brazil and, the game was too important to rely on such inexperience. If anything, Ryan could have replaced Solo with Scurry after Solo struggled in the World Cup opener against North Korea. That would have given Scurry a few games to recover her timing before the Americans faced their biggest obstacles.
It was not Ryan’s job to worry about team chemistry. It was his job to win. If some of Solo’s teammates were upset, that shouldn’t have been the coach’s concern. Clearly, though, his experiment failed, and support for Ryan will be thin.
On Thursday, Ryan also returned Osborne to the midfield to mark the Brazilian playmaker Daniela and to try to disrupt the opponent’s clever ball control.
In the last important match between these teams, the United States needed overtime to prevail, 2-1, in the gold medal game at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Brazil did not field its full team for the next two years and entered the World Cup as something of a question mark.
It became clear early on in this tournament, though, that the South Americans were serious contenders, becoming the only team to win each of its three games in the opening round. Yet Brazil had defeated the Americans only once in 22 matches, and its elegant style often devolved into a cynical game of fouling. In a 2-0 loss to the Americans in June at Giants Stadium, Brazil was flagged with five yellow cards.
Early on Thursday, it was the muscular style of the Americans that seemed to prevail. The United States’ play was bothersome to Brazil in midfield. Brazil’s players kept falling to the turf and arguing among each other. It appeared the team might become unnerved.
But the United States could never really gain the upper hand. In the 7th minute, Scurry got her first test. She rushed off her line on a free kick only to collide with Formiga. The ball bounced free but the danger quickly dissipated.
In the 20th minute, though, another American mistake became costly. On a corner kick by Formiga, Osborne failed to get her body in front of the ball as it bounced in the box. Instead of trying to clear the shot with her feet, Osborne went to her knees and headed the ball into her own goal, between a defenseless Scurry and Lori Chalupny, who was at the near post.
Seven minutes later, Marta sliced into the penalty area for Brazil. Stephanie Lopez grabbed her shorts, but Marta pulled away, stepped around Kate Markgraf and blasted a low shot with her left foot. Scurry dived to her left, got a hand on the ball but could not keep it out of the net. Shockingly, Brazil led 2-0.
“If she’s on her game, she makes this save,” Tony DiCicco, who coached Scurry and the United States to the 1999 World Cup title, said on ESPN2.
He spoke harshly of Ryan, saying, “I think he’s lost some credibility with his team.”
As the first half went to extra time, the United States suffered another blow on a poor decision by referee Nicole Petignat. Cristiane, the Brazilian forward, cut behind Boxx in midfield and clipped her feet, falling to the turf. Boxx did not cause the contact, but it was she who was penalized. She was handed her second yellow card and was ejected, forcing the United States to continue a player down for the remainder of the game.
During the World Cup final in 1999, it was Petignat who looked the other way and did not flag Scurry for coming off her line prematurely in defending penalty kicks against China. Thursday, Petignat made an ill-advised call. Now Boxx will be ineligible for Sunday’s consolation match.
The 10-player American side was put under tremendous pressure in the second half as it switched to a 3-4-2 formation. In the 56th minute, Cat Whitehill was caught upfield, leaving a gaping hole in central defense. Formiga found Cristiane wide open in front of the net, and Cristiane put Brazil insurmountably ahead 3-0.
In the 79th minute, Marta scored a beautiful goal, flicking the ball over her shoulder, spinning and running past Tina Ellertson and putting Brazil ahead 4-0. Ryan has said he can live with his decision to make such a rare goalkeeping change. Now we will see whether he can keep his job for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.