By Dermot Clarke
The Rose Bowl in Pasadena is becoming almost as famous as the O.K. Corral when it comes to shootouts. In 1994, Brazil beat Italy on penalties after a scoreless game in the World Cup final. On Saturday, the same venue hosted the Women’s version of the competition and, after another nil-nil tie, the U.S. women’s team captured the crown with a 5-4 victory over China.
Three heroes in particular emerged from the triumph: Briana Scurry, who saved the lone China miss; Michelle Akers, who was superb in midfield despite her age and other ailments, and Brandi Chastain, who kept a cool head to knock home the winning spot-kick.
Kristine Lilly’s header off the line in the 100th minute to save a "golden goal" defeat, was also memorable. She, too, I suppose, should make it onto the heroes list, but then where does one stop. Indeed, for the U.S., this whole tournament was about commitment and team spirit and each played an part in this memorable triumph.
After a scoreless 120 minutes, the penalty shootout begun. "I knew I had to stop just one and my teammates would put all of them in," keeper Scurry said, reflecting on the exciting shootout.
Her confidence probably came from the fact that her teammates actually practiced for the shoot-out eventuality. Take note future coaches of Italy, England, etc.
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Xie Huilin and Carla Overbeck swapped scores, 1-1. Scurry almost saved from Qiu Haiyan before Joy Fawcett leveled again at two. Then the save, from Liu Ying, followed by Kristine Lilly, who wasn’t about to let her earlier heroics go to waste as she made it 3-2 for the host nation. Zhang Ouying kept the Asians’ hopes alive by scoring their fourth, but Mia Hamm was next and that meant that the U.S just needed to score the last kick to win. The excellent Sun Wen, the tournament’s leading scorer, was about as safe a bet as Hamm
and so it was down to Chastain and more than 90,000 breaths were held as she slotted it home.
Frenzy ensued, Bill Clinton said that "in some ways it was the most important sporting event of the last decade." Don’t know about that, Bill, but it certainly was exciting and great to watch and it’s always nice when the host nation win the tournament. Particularly a host nation represented by women as committed and unassuming as those from the U.S. The U.S. men should really take a leaf from women’s Coach Tony Di Cicco’s book. The men may have nicer hairstyles, but for real style it’s the women all the way.
There are few, if any, better tournaments than the Copa America Cup. The tournament, the Nations Cup of South America, usually has everything: drama, skill, excitement and superb goals from play or dead-ball situations. This year has been no exception and as we go to print, the semifinals are under way. Chile play Uruguay and Brazil meet Mexico after a quarterfinal stage that offered four nail-biters filled with drama.
The first two were both decided on spot-kicks. The depleted Mexico looked dead and buried when they fell two behind to Peru after 14 minutes. They managed to claw it back and go through 4-2 on penalties. Uruguay put paid to hosts Paraguay via the spot, when after a 1-1 tie they went on 5-3, much to the disappointment of the avid home support.
Chile had to come from behind twice before Ivan Zamorano put them through against the slightly more fancied Colombia, Chile winning 3-2. Then came the big one as bitter rivals Brazil and Argentina were pitted together and Wanderley’s wagon rolls on as the Brazilians came through 2-1.
"We beat an excellent team by playing football," was Coach Wanderley Luxemburg’s summation. Argentina led through a rather fortunate Sorin goal after 11 minutes, his shot coming off the knee of Joao Carlos before eluding Dida in the Brazil goal. After 33 minutes it was all square when the beaten World Cup finalists equalized from a free-kick, of all things. Ronaldo stood over it, but it was Rivaldo who bent it into the top corner to leave it 1-1 at the half.
Three minutes after the restart Ronaldo did score when he drove home from outside the box after some excellent work by Roberto.
Argentina’s will look back at this competition and rue the penalty-kick misses, though. With 78 minutes gone, Captain Ayala had a kick saved that would have made it 2-2 against Brazil. But they would have had a possibly easier path to the semifinals against Chile had they scored the three they were awarded against Colombia.
Closer to home and Arsene Wenger is still on the Robbie Fowler trail, but the Arsenal Boss has been told that even at £312 million, Robbie’s not for sale. Alex Ferguson has resigned himself to the fact that his team cannot take part in the F.A. Cup. United have decided to opt for the FIFA money-spinning carnival ahead of the great tradition that is the F.A. Cup.
It’s a shame, really, but you only have to look at the wedding photos of Posh Spice and David Beckham to see where success is taking United. Posh is one of the Spice Girls, in case you didn’t know, and Beckham is "The best crosser of the ball in the world," a new category conjured up in the minds of the British media for the blue-eyed boy.
These two beautiful people will never be short in the confidence area, it seems. Thrones, purple costumes, the lot. Prince, Elton John and Lewis Carroll had to be involved somewhere down the line. Where have you gone, Georgie Best?