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An American tradition — by giving its all until final seconds, U.S. stuns Brazil

On Soccer

Somewhere, Mia Hamm is shedding a happy tear or two. Emotions always ran close to the surface for America’s soccer darling.

Somewhere, Julie Foudy is letting loose with a whoop and a holler. “Loudy” Foudy always was one to express her feelings vocally.

Somewhere, Michelle Akers is leaping high and stretching her neck, heading in that last-second desperation goal to salvage an American World Cup dream.

Only, it was Abby Wambach who scored it Sunday. Akers was simply the inspiration, the template from the past that said no U.S. women’s soccer team is ever beaten until the final whistle sounds.

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Somewhere, perhaps, Brandi Chastain is once again tearing her shirt off. Or perhaps not, but she should be.

The torch has well and truly been passed, and the U.S. women’s team that on Sunday knocked Brazil out of the Women’s World Cup in Germany, winning, 5-3, on penalty kicks after a 2-2 tie, has every right to be compared to the World Cup winners of 1999.

Dresden’s Rudolf-Harbig Stadium was not the Rose Bowl, but it was exactly 12 years ago Sunday that the U.S. edged China on penalty kicks, 5-4, to win the World Cup for a second time.

Sunday’s game was only a quarterfinal, but pause for a moment right there. Had the U.S. accepted defeat while the clock ticked off the remaining seconds and the scoreboard showed Brazil ahead, 2-1, few would have complained. The U.S. players had given their all.

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But acceptance is not the American way. Defiance is, and Wambach typified that spirit. In slow motion, here’s what happened next:

The ball was floated into the Brazilian goal mouth by Megan Rapinoe. Andreia, the Brazilian goalkeeper, threw out her arms but didn’t come close to intercepting it.

Luckless defender Daiane, the same player who scored an own goal two minutes into the match and soon would add to her misery by seeing her penalty kick saved by U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo, leaped, but not as high or as forcefully or as determinedly as Wambach.

Ball met forehead and found the back of the Brazilian net. That made it 2-2 and set the stage for the cruel drama of penalty kicks.

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In 1999, it was Carla Overbeck, Joy Fawcett, Kristine Lilly, Hamm and, finally, Chastain who showed the resolve.

Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. Game over.

In 2011, it was Shannon Boxx, Carli Lloyd, Wambach, Rapinoe and Ali Krieger.

Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. Game over.

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The five U.S. penalty kicks provided the exclamation marks to an epic comeback, and those who achieved the victory — the entire team, not only the penalty takers — have every right to be mentioned in the same breath as the U.S. heroines of 1999.

Six days past the Fourth of July, Old Glory flew proudly in Dresden on Sunday night.

Coach Pia Sundhage put it best.

“I come from Sweden,” she said, “but this core American value of bringing the best out of one another is infectious. I’m very proud and happy to be coach of the USA.”

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Spare a thought, though, for the Brazilians. They came, they saw, they almost conquered.

But again, just as in the 2004 Olympic final, the 2007 World Cup final and the 2008 Olympic final, they came across one hurdle too high, one barrier too impenetrable.

Brazil has dazzling players. Marta is a diamond brighter than all the rest. But there is an intangible that separates some teams from others and it has nothing to do with ability.

It is belief and it is impossible to teach. It comes from within. It comes from history. It comes from having been there before and knowing that nothing is impossible.

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The U.S. women have that belief ingrained in them. Anson Dorrance and Tony DiCicco, the coaches who led them to their 1991 and 1999 World Cup triumphs, instilled it in them and it has been part and parcel of the team’s makeup since.

It wasn’t only 11 players on the field whom Brazil was up against Sunday, it was every player who has ever pulled on a U.S. jersey.

With time running out, the odds were that Brazil would prevail. But then the U.S. conjured up the past. After that, there would only be one winner.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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Jones reported from Ross-on-Wye, England


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