By Shawn Muller–
(CBS) In my 31 years on this planet, I have witnessed some pretty entertaining sporting events.
Off the top of my head, Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run against the Oakland Athletics in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series strikes a chord. Who could forget–other than folks in the great state of Kentucky–Duke star Christian Laettner’s game-winning jumper at the buzzer to beat the Kentucky Wildcats in the Elite Eight of the 1992 NCAA Tournament. There was also the 127-117 six overtime thriller between the Syracuse Orange (who won the game) and the University of Connecticut Huskies in the 2009 Big East Conference Tournament semi-finals at Madison Square Garden.
Sure, there are many more that I could talk about, but when coming up with a list of greatest games in history during my lifetime–regardless of sport–those three games are always at the top of my list anytime the topic is up for discussion.
But I have to say, for as good as those games were, and for as dramatic as they may have been, none could hold a candle to what I witnessed on Sunday during the United States National Team’s thrilling shootout win over Brazil in the quarterfinals of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
As I have said before, I am not a soccer fan, but if the United States is playing in an international tournament–like the World Cup–I will watch with great interest. Sunday was one of those days..and boy…am I sure glad that I witnessed that match. If I hadn’t watched the game, I would not have witnessed one of the greatest sporting events–not only in my lifetime–but of all-time.
Yes, it was that dramatic.
It was that tense.
It was that good.
The United States found themselves with an early 1-0 lead after Brazilian defender Daiane scored an own goal for the Americans inside of the first two minutes of the match. The Americans looked dominate in the first half of the match, and heading into halftime, it looked as if it was only a matter of time before the Americans blew the doors wide open in the second half.
Instead, those of us watching were treated to arguably the greatest World Cup match in the history of the tournament…men or women.
It all started with a questionable penalty, when American defender Rachel Buehler “dragged” Brazilian star Marta down to the turf, resulting in a penalty kick for the Brazilians and a red card for Buehler, giving Brazil an opportunity to tie the game at one, and putting the Americans squad a man down for the remainder of the game.
Cristiane took the penalty kick for Brazil, Hope Solo blocked the kick, and the United States kept the 1-0 lead.
Or so we thought.
Referee Jacqui Melksham ordered the kick to be retaken because either Solo had left her line or an American player had encroached the penalty area before the kick was taken. While it appeared to be a terrible call to those of us watching at home, in the stands, and in the press box, there was nothing the U.S. could do about it.
Five-time FIFA Player of the Year Marta took the re-kick, and buried the game tying goal deep into the net.
So there the Americans were:
Tied 1-1 and playing the final 25 minutes of regulation with 10 players to Brazil’s 11. If they did manage to keep the game tied at one through 90 minutes, there was virtually no way they could do it for another 30 minutes of overtime.
I mean, come on!
Potentially playing 55 minutes short-handed against Brazil?
The only chance the Americans had to win that match on Sunday was going to be in a penalty shootout…and the odds of even getting to a shootout were slim to nil. And for a time there, it appeared slim and nil left the building.
Marta appeared to put the United States away for good, scoring a beautiful goal in the 92nd minute of the first overtime period, putting Brazil up 2-1 with just 28 minutes left in the game.
But then, just as it appeared all hope was lost for the top ranked women’s soccer team in the world, the impossible happened. With the final 15 minutes of overtime completed, and a mere 3 minutes of stoppage time added…the U.S. shocked the world.
Inside the final one minute to play in stoppage time, midfielder Megan Rapinoe booted a beautiful left-footed cross from roughly 30 yards out to forward Abby Wambach, who then proceeded to whip a furious header into the net from about 5 yards away, tying the game at two with just seconds left to spare.
No way did that just happen I thought!
It was the latest goal ever scored in a World Cup match–men or women–and it sent shockwaves throughout Germany, the United States, and the rest of the soccer world.
The United States had done the impossible. They had managed to fight past the questionable calls. They had managed to play 55 minutes down a player. They had managed to shock the world.
They had managed to do the impossible.
Once the game went to a shootout, everyone watching knew that the United States wasn’t going to be denied. They had come too far to let it slip away now…and there was nothing Brazil could do about it. The Americans scored on all five penalty kicks, Hope Solo stopped the third Brazilian attempt, and the U.S. won 5-3.
The United States will now face France in the semi-finals on Wednesday, with the winner playing either Sweden or Japan in the final. But no matter what happens from here on out in the World Cup, nothing will come close to what occurred on Sunday…
Do you agree with Shawn? Post your comments below.
Shawn Muller has lived in the great city of Chicago for 7 years. He is a 2002 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and, in October of 2010, Shawn received his certificate in radio broadcasting. In his free time, Shawn enjoys spending time with his wife Melissa and 3 year old daughter Ava, catching any live sporting event, and traveling. Check out his radio show, Grab Some Bench with Muller and Bangser” every Thursday night at 8:30 P.M., at www.blogtalkradio.com/spmuller24. Read more of his blogs here.