Forward Mia Hamm scored the 127th goal of her glorious career, and perhaps one of the most important, as she opportunistically finished a rare chance in the 60th minute to provide the winning margin. The U.S. defense, and especially the back-line of Christie Pearce, Joy Fawcett, Kate Sobrero and Brandi Chastain, was world class in holding Brazil to just two shots on goal, one which drew a clutch save from U.S. goalkeeper Siri Mullinix.
"I'm pleased and very proud of the team," said U.S. head coach April Heinrichs. "The last 20 minutes of the game showed a great mentality on our part. The game was ebb and flow, and when you get to this point in a world championship tournament, the result of the game can be a matter of inches. It can be left up to something out of your control. We really played within ourselves, kept our heads and at the end of the day we find ourselves advancing, and that feels terrific."
The Americans navigated one of the toughest roads ever to a world championship final, emerging from the "Group of Death" in first place, before taking on Brazil, which no doubt staked its claim as one of the top four teams in the world. A rematch with archrival Norway awaits in the gold medal match on Sept. 28 at the Sydney Football Stadium. The USA defeated Norway, 2-0, in the first game of the Olympics for both teams.
Tonight's rematch of the 1999 Women's World Cup semifinal (won 2-0 by the USA) was brutally physical as the teams combined for 41 fouls and eight yellow cards, four for each team, as the clearly pro-Brazil crowd cheered on the South Americans for the entire game. Brazil played a dynamic match, mixing quick passing connections with superior tight space dribbling, and out-shot the USA 15-6, but could never quite penetrate the flak jacket U.S. defense. The Americans actually put more shots on goal than the Brazilians with a 4-2 margin.
"I thought we did a good job of staying balanced," said defender Brandi Chastain. "Brazil caused a lot of problems, but I never thought were in danger of going down."
The first half, while intense, saw no clear chances for either team as the USA controlled the flow in the early going before Brazil grabbed a hold of the momentum before the break.
Hamm was a favorite target of Brazilian tackles as she received several nasty hits and was on the painful end of three fouls that drew yellow cards. She made the pain go away, if only for a moment, when she scored off a U.S. set-play 15 minutes into the second half. Chastain took the free kick from 45 yards out and bent a driven ball into the penalty box. Five-foot-three midfielder Lorrie Fair rose above her defender and looped a header back towards the left post. Brazilian goalkeeper Andreia raced out of her goal, but missed the descending ball as she lunged for it, and then crashed into U.S. forward Tiffeny Milbrett who was also charging hard after the loose ball. With Milbrett and Andreia in a heap on the ground, Hamm bolted in and tucked the bouncing ball into the net from an extremely steep angle, just one yard from the end line and one yard outside the left post.
"I was just trying to go for the ball," said Milbrett. "For me, I just wanted to try to wreak a little bit of havoc in there and I did. I got in (the goalkeeper's) way a bit and Mia was following the play and was able to slot the ball in from a tight angle."
Brazil, playing on four days of rest to the USA's three, gave every ounce of energy it had for the last 30 minutes, but the U.S. defense would not be beaten, repelling 12 corner kicks during the match and catching the South Americans offside six times. Whippet-quick forward Maicon was perhaps Brazil's most dangerous player, but even she could not find a way around the U.S. back line. In the 65th minute, it seemed as if Pretinha had sprung loose in the right side of the penalty box, but Fawcett came up with a game-saving play, making a brilliant recovery run and executing a perfect slide tackle to win the ball before the diminutive Brazilian forward could pull trigger.
In the 70th minute, it was Mullinix who was the hero, as substitute Roseli got behind the U.S. defense in the right side of the penalty box, and cracked a driven volley that Mullinix got a hand on to palm just outside the left post. Roseli had entered the match in the in the 58th minute after forward Katia, perhaps Brazil's best attacker, was forced to leave the match with a pulled hamstring.
"We have great respect for Brazil," said Heinrichs. "It's an understatement to say that they're the most improved team. Brazil is a marvelous team, and our feeling for the last year now, especially after the Gold Cup, is that Brazil is definitely one of the top four teams in the world. The margin is very, very slim and I think you saw that tonight."
Heinrichs made just one substitution, bringing on Cindy Parlow for Shannon MacMillan in the 79th minute, and the big striker was instrumental in helping the Americans milk the clock, holding the ball in the corner of the field on several occasions as the seconds ticked away.
The USA will now face Norway for in an incredible eighth time in 2000. The two teams are knotted a 3-3-1 on the year, but Norway holds an edge in the all-time series at 14-13-2. Norway is the only team in the world with a winning record against the USA.
"Norway is a great team and they have some great personalities in (Dagny) Mellgren, (Marianne) Pettersen, and Hege Riise," added Heinrichs. "Riise is a winner and the kind of player I would have on my team any day. She finds ways to win. She's thoughtful and crafty, and I love the way she plays. She's been the most consistent player for Norway for years. They play with a great, organized defense, the play hard and physical at the back. Bente Nordby is also one of the best goalkeepers in the world so their defense is tough to penetrate and it will require a great performance from our part."
The USA will travel to Sydney tomorrow and be available to the media at the Main Press Center during a press conference at Noon on Tuesday, Sept. 26.
2000 U.S. WOMEN'S OLYMPIC TEAM GAME REPORT
|Participants:||U.S. Women's Olympic Team vs. Brazil|
|Competition:||2000 Olympic Games - Semifinal|
|Venue:||Bruce Stadium (Canberra, Australia)|
|Date:||September 24, 2000 - Kickoff 5:30 p.m. (local)|
|Weather:||59 degrees - Cool, Clear, Breezy|
USA - Mia Hamm, (Lorrie Fair), 60.
USA - 18-Siri Mullinix, 3-Christie Pearce, 14-Joy Fawcett, 15-Kate Sobrero, 6-Brandi Chastain, 13-Kristine Lilly, 11-Julie Foudy, 2-Lorrie Fair, 8-Shannon MacMillan (12-Cindy Parlow, 79th), 16-Tiffeny Milbrett, 9-Mia Hamm.
BRA - 1-Andreia, 3-Juliana, 6-Tania, 15-Simone, 5-Daniela, 7-Formiga, 8-Cidinha, 10-Sissi (14-Raquel, 83rd), 9-Katia (11-Roseli, 58th), 12-Pretinha, 13-Maicon.
|Lorrie Fair (caution)||44,|
|Kristine Lilly (caution)||63,|
|Tiffeny Milbrett (caution)||68,|
|Cindy Parlow (caution)||91.|