LANDOVER, Md. — A few ticks of the clock were all that separated the German Women's World Cup team from defeating Brazil, clinching the Group B title and avoiding the favored United States in the quarterfinals. All the Germans had to do was endure the last few seconds of injury time at steamy Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, and a potentially easy route to the semifinals would be theirs.
But faster than forwards Katia Da Silva or Pretinha can sprint--which is to say breathtakingly fast--Maicon scored in the fourth and final minute of injury time to forge a 3-3 tie, giving Brazil first place in the group and setting up a knockout quarterfinal match Thursday between Germany (1-0-2) and the United States at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium. Brazil (2-0-1) will face Group A runner-up Nigeria (2-1-0) in the second game of the doubleheader.
"In Brazil, there's a saying, 'God is Brazilian,' " Coach Wilson de Oliveira Rica said, "and this proves that once more."
The Germans thought stupidity dictated their fate, not divine intervention. Tina Wunderlich fouled Maicon to set up a free kick, and although Sissi's initial shot did not get through, Maicon persevered and scored from about 15 yards out.
"I saw the ball coming. I thought to myself, 'It's a goal, and we'll be either first or second in the group," Maicon said. "We deserve that. . . . It wasn't a tie, it was a victory for us."
But not for Germany. "It's easy to say we were unlucky, but the foul was not necessary 10 seconds before the end," Coach Tina Theune-Meyer said.
While the crowd of 22,109 gasped in disbelief, the Brazilians (2-0-1) rejoiced over escaping defeat and the Germans covered their faces in despair.
"We don't know how it happened. I forget. I want to forget," defender Doris Fitschen said. "Of course, we are very disappointed because until the last second we were sure we would not face the USA before the semifinals."
The dramatic ending was a fitting conclusion to a well-played game.
Germany, which built up its attacks through the midfield, scored in the eighth minute. Midfielder Maren Meinert dodged Brazilian defender Elane before passing to Birgit Prinz, who beat goalkeeper Maravilha with a left-footed shot from seven yards out.
The Brazilian women tied the score in the 15th minute after German defender Steffi Jones misplayed the ball and lost it to Pretinha, who scored on a shot from the penalty arc.
When Sissi bent a free kick past the left side of the defensive wall in the 20th minute to take the tournament goal-scoring lead with six and put Brazil ahead, the Germans seemed to be losing heart. However, they rebounded to pull even when Bettina Wiegmann converted a penalty kick in the 47th minute, and regained the lead in the 58th minute when Jones completed a skillful passing sequence with a shot that rocketed off a Brazilian defender and into the net.
Germany had seven shots on goal in the second half to two for Brazil, but the last was enough to change the course of the tournament.
"It was stupid of us to make the foul," Jones said. "We knew Sissi is good playing free kicks and we were not careful enough to take 3-2 home."
But they haven't ruled out taking the World Cup home. "I don't think we have to hide behind the U.S. team," said Jones, whose father, Frank, an American serviceman, might watch her play Thursday for the first time in five years. "We have a strong team too. You saw in the second half we are able to score even if we are behind. . . .
"Maybe we will have more luck against the U.S. team. We can just give our best. Maybe it wasn't enough today, but we will see against the U.S."