Journey to Olympic Final Sees Similar Footsteps
BEIJING (August 19, 2008) - The U.S. and Brazil have followed paths to the 2008 Olympic gold medal game marked by some contrast, but also remarkable similarity.
First the contrast.
The U.S. saw three key players struck down by injuries this year, including leading scorer Abby Wambach, defender Cat Whitehill and midfielder Leslie Osborne, as it headed into the 2008 Olympics.
Brazil got its three key players back (Marta, Cristiane and Daniela), all of whom were playing club soccer in Sweden and unavailable for pre-Olympic warm-up matches, as it headed to China.
Still, the run to Beijing Workers’ Stadium and the Olympic gold medal match has been somewhat of a parallel journey for both countries.
The U.S. lost its Olympic opener for the first time ever, falling to Norway by a 2-0 score in Qinhuangdao and the much anticipated Brazil vs. Germany opening match of Group F fizzled to a 0-0 draw.
Still, both teams rebounded from less than satisfactory starts to gain rolling momentum as the tournament progressed, racking up a series of impressive results.
Brazil beat North Korea just 2-1 in its second group match, but let’s not forget that North Korea looked to be one of the best teams early in the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup before they ran out of gas.
Despite giving up the first goal to Nigeria, the Brazilians predictably roared back to score three times for a 3-1 win in its third match, giving them the group title.
Like Brazil, the U.S. notched a close win over an Asian team in its second group game, downing Japan 1-0, which would also go through from group play and advance to the semifinal for a rematch with the Americans.
And like Brazil, the U.S. got a comfortable win in its final first round match (4-0 over New Zealand) to take first place in the group.
Both the U.S. and Brazil encountered feisty opponents in their quarterfinal matches, but in both games, the class showed through as each won by 2-1 scores, Brazil over Norway and the U.S. over Canada.
Amazingly, each team scored four goals in its semifinal victory, and if not for a 94th minute goal from Japan, both games would have ended 4-1.
Heading into the championship, both teams have scored 11 goals. But in that similarity, lies a stark difference.
Of Brazil’s 11 goals, eight have been scored by star forwards Marta or Cristiane and two more by Daniela. The USA’s 11 goals have come from seven different players. Eight different U.S. players have assists.
Marta and Cristiane vs. the United States? Certainly not. All 22 starters, and no doubt some reserves, will make a difference in this match. But for sure Brazil will be relying on its stars to produce while the U.S. will once again look all over the field for its goals.