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Brazil dazzles U.S. in semifinals
The Brazilians advanced to Sunday's championship game against Germany with a 4-0 victory.
HANGZHOU, China -- The way Brazil and sensational striker Marta played, it didn't matter who was in goal for the United States.
Marta scored two goals and the Brazilians put on a dazzling display of soccer Thursday, outhustling the Americans at nearly every turn to cruise to a 4-0 victory in the Women's World Cup semifinals.
The Brazilians will play in their first final Sunday against defending champion Germany.
"If you asked me how I do that, I can't explain," Marta said, even after watching TV replays of her goals. "Things happen very quickly during the match, and afterward I start thinking: 'How do I do that?"'
That's what American goalie Hope Solo was asking. Angry she was replaced for the critical game in favor of veteran Briana Scurry, Solo lashed out at U.S. coach Greg Ryan.
"It was the wrong decision, and I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that," Solo said. "There's no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves. ... You have to live in the present. And you can't live by big names. You can't live in the past."
Ryan defended his decision and Scurry, who made her 164th appearance for the United States.
"I don't have any regrets about that," he said. "I think Bri played a great game."
He stressed that he didn't think the switch affected the game.
Ryan might have been right. The Brazilians attacked from the start, and the Americans were unable to keep pace as they saw their 51-match unbeaten streak end with their worst loss in a World Cup match.
The U.S. will play Norway for third place Sunday.
The opening score came on an own-goal in the 20th minute, when American defender Leslie Osborne headed a corner behind Scurry. Lucky or not, the Brazilians were off and running and proved to be better in every facet: clever triangulated passes, counterattacks, audacious moves and blistering shots.
"They played like a team," American striker Abby Wambach said. "I've never seen them play so well. They brought all of their heart and all of their soccer to the table."
"It's a hard loss to swallow," she added. "More than anything it's just heartbreaking, it's hard to go down like this."
Bidding for another title to go with championships in 1991 and 1999, the U.S. team's semifinal loss was a repeat of the 2003 event, when the Americans were eliminated by Germany.
Marta made it 2-0 in the 27th to add to Brazil's growing confidence. She evaded a half-dozen players and cracked a left-footed shot from 15 yards that hugged the ground and beat Scurry diving to her left. She got her left hand on the ball but couldn't stop it.
"The first goal that Marta scored was a great goal," Ryan said. "Briana in that situation gives us the best chance to stop that shot because of her quickness and speed. If you look at the rest of the match, there is nothing she could have done about any of the other goals."
Scurry, the 36-year-old keeper who stopped a deciding penalty kick to give the U.S. the 1999 World Cup, was under intense scrutiny. Ryan named her to start just 24 hours beforehand, benching Solo who had allowed only two goals in four World Cup games -- and none in almost 300 minutes.
Any hope the U.S. had was snuffed out a few seconds into first-half injury time when Shannon Boxx picked up her second yellow card, leaving the Americans a player short. The foul was marginal, but Boxx lunged on a tackle trailing just a step behind the Brazilian attackers.
"I'm not sure about the call on Boxx," Scurry said. "Brazil's a great team. You can't go down a man against a team like Brazil; they are going to tear you up. Unfortunately, that's what happened."
Forced to push for a goal in the second half, the U.S. left itself exposed at the back with Maycon, Daniela and Cristiane narrowly missing in the opening minutes. Cristiane finally broke through in the 56th minute to make it 3-0, left-footing a shot home in a one-on-one contest with Scurry.
Brazil's last flurry came in the 79th minute when Marta showed why she was the 2006 player of the year. Off the left wing, she faked around U.S. defender Tina Ellertson, raced into the box, faked another defender and beat Scurry with a shot that drew a huge ovation from a crowd of 48,000.
"This is a history, and it's good to be part of history," said Marta, who leads the tournament with seven goals.
The game may be a watershed, though Ryan said it was unfair "to draw too many conclusions" from one game.
Despite winning Group B -- the toughest in the 16-team tournament -- the Americans seldom looked threatening on offense. They tied North Korea 2-2, then had narrow wins over Sweden and Nigeria. Their best game was a 3-0 victory over England in the quarterfinals, probably their weakest opponent in the tournament.
Brazil's victory was only its second over the United States in 23 games. The Americans beat Brazil 2-0 in June in New York -- without Marta -- and won the gold-medal game 2-1 in the 2004 Olympics, a match Brazil dominated and probably deserved to win.
The Americans and European teams like Norway, Germany and Sweden have ruled the first two decades of women's soccer with better organization, more money and well-schooled players.
The United States won titles in '91 and '99 with Norway winning in '95 and Germany in '03. But Brazil, which spends little on the women's game, has the edge in pure skill, backed by world soccer's deepest pool of talent.
Don't forget, Brazil's men have won an unprecedented five World Cups.
"We haven't let up with the women's program," said Sunil Gulati, president of the United States Soccer Federation. "If anything we have accelerated everything."
"We are not where we were 10 years ago. It's not because we are not better, it's because everyone else is investing in the game."