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Brazil waltzes easily past U.S. in semifinals

Marta scores two goals, Americans give up own goal and then lose Boxx to red card in 4-0 rout.

September 28, 2007|Philip Hersh | Special to The Times

HANGZHOU, China -- As they left the stadium, two Brazilian players were banging out samba rhythms on drums, a third was slapping a tambourine and the rest of their teammates were singing.

They sashayed past Kristine Lilly, the last player still active from the teams of the golden age of U.S. women's soccer. That era ended for good today because the drums weren't the only thing Brazil pounded.

"It hurts," Lilly said, referring not to her eardrums but her psyche. "It just hurts."

Lilly has played in World Cups since the first in 1991, on the national team since 1987, and never had she or any U.S. player lost as badly as this, a 4-0 thrashing in the World Cup semifinals in front of 47,818 at Dragon Stadium.

It was the first defeat by more than three goals in the 22-year history of the U.S. women's program and the second straight lopsided U.S. elimination in the World Cup semifinals. Germany did it, 3-0, in 2003.

"I'm not devastated by this loss at all," U.S. Coach Greg Ryan said. "I'm disappointed for my players."

Brazil, making its first Women's World Cup final, will meet defending champion Germany on Sunday in Shanghai, after the two-time champion U.S. plays Norway for third place.

That is where the U.S. women are now: the bronze age.

"We're not where we were 10 years ago, but it's not because we're not better," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said. "It's because everyone else is investing rapidly in the game.

"Am I concerned? No."

The United States (3-1-1) was overwhelmed by a Brazilian team whose federation has invested almost nothing in its women's program, basically disbanding the team from the end of the 2004 Olympics until the final few weeks before July's Pan American Games.

"If we look at how they developed with so little in their country, how they have come so far, it's a great achievement for them," Ryan said.

That makes the U.S. women underachievers, given how their federation continues to intensify its development and residency programs. Earlier in the World Cup, the U.S. struggled to beat Nigeria 1-0, and was outplayed by North Korea in a 2-2 tie.

"They were beating us to the ball most of the time," Lilly said about Brazil. "The first goal was a fluke, and then Marta had a good goal, and then we're down a man and just trying to keep our heads above water. Brazil was a better team today."

Ryan cited the odd circumstances of the first half and did not draw any conclusions from the game.

The first Brazil goal came off the head of U.S. player Leslie Osborne. The United States was a player short after midfielder Shannon Boxx was sent off with a second yellow card just before intermission, when Brazil led 2-0.

"After the sending off, then it's easy to say Brazil looked great," Ryan said.

Nothing went right for the United States in this game, including Ryan's controversial decision to give Briana Scurry, who had thwarted Brazil in the 2004 Olympic gold-medal game, her first start of the World Cup after Hope Solo had three straight shutouts.

"I don't have any regrets," Ryan said of the goalie switch.

But Solo didn't hold back in her criticism afterward.

"It was the wrong decision, and I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that," she said. "There's no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves. And the fact of the matter is it's not 2004 anymore. . . . It's 2007, and I think you have to live in the present. And you can't live by big names. You can't live in the past."

Scurry made outright mistakes -- badly misplaying a free kick early in the game, with no harm done -- and couldn't come up with key plays. She could have called Osborne off the ball that turned into a goal in the 20th minute, and she dove a little late to get more than fingertips on a Marta shot in the 27th.

That was the type of shot Ryan apparently had in mind when he decided Scurry's quick reflexes made her a better choice against Brazil.

"I felt confident," Scurry said. "I make no excuses."

Scurry and her teammates knew Brazil has the best pure talent of any team in the world, but none had seen them play so well as a team.

"Does that mean I think Brazil is better than the U.S.? No," said Abby Wambach.


Philip Hersh covers Olympic sports for The Times and the Chicago Tribune.

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