U.S. Sees Holes In Brazilians' Spotty Defense

shannon boxx - stephanie lopez - u.s. national soccer team
The U.S.'s Shannon Boxx, left, and Stephanie Lopez, right, will look to put the attack on Brazil on Thursday night for a berth in the World Cup finals. (AP)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 26, 2007

SHANGHAI, Sept. 25 -- From afar during this Women's World Cup, the U.S. players have admired Brazil's stylish attack and spectacular goals, its demolition of the host team in group play and its perseverance against Australia in the quarterfinals. They have seen Marta, the reigning FIFA player of the year, mesmerize opponents with her footwork, Formiga score from 25 yards and Cristiane find space between five defenders and strike from distance.

But amid the entertaining exhibitions and blur of Brazil's blue-and-yellow uniforms, the Americans have also witnessed a Brazilian team that has made horrendous defensive mistakes, shown a general lack of organization and, when things are not going its way, lose composure.

And it is in these areas that the U.S. team believes it can exploit its splashy semifinal opponent Thursday night at Hangzhou Dragon Stadium and reach the World Cup championship game for the third time.

"I think we are going to have opportunities to score on them," goalkeeper Hope Solo said Tuesday before the team embarked on a 135-mile bus ride southwest to the lakeside city of Hangzhou. "Very tough team, very crafty on the attack, but I am not so sure they are very organized in the defense like a lot of teams that we do play."

For a highly structured team like the United States, playing Brazil's improvisational troupe is like being a college basketball team that has to face a group of playground legends. The Americans would like to prevent Brazilian style from evolving into Brazilian substance.

"Brazil prides themselves on their attacking ability, so that is where we are going to get after them, and we're going to attack, too," forward Heather O'Reilly said. "That's what is beautiful about the game: It's going to go back and forth and it's going to be a test of wills out there."

With few exceptions, the Americans have passed every test in their 22 meetings with Brazil. They have lost just once, nearly 10 years ago in Sao Paulo, settled for ties in 1996 and 2000, and have outscored the South Americans 56-11.

But like their male counterparts have done for 50-plus years, the Brazilian women are beginning to convert attractive play into favorable results. They took the United States to overtime in the 2004 Olympic gold medal game in Athens before losing on Abby Wambach's goal, and are the only World Cup semifinalist this year to have gone 4-0 in the tournament. They did not concede a goal until Australia overcame a two-goal deficit Sunday to draw even in the second half, thanks to a poor back pass and goalkeeping flaws.

"You are looking at a very creative team that plays off the individual qualities of some of their star-level players and can keep the ball and knock it," U.S. Coach Greg Ryan said. "The way they defend is different; it's going to change the way we attack."

Brazil is likely to play with a sweeper and two outside defenders (as opposed to four in the back) against the U.S.'s three-forward formation. "It's going to be a very strange mix," Ryan added, "and it will be fun to see."

Although Brazil is well regarded for its positive approach to the game -- "individually they are so great all over the field," midfielder Leslie Osborne said -- the U.S. team has regularly encountered a team that is as feisty as it is free-flowing.

Ryan called his team's 2-0 victory over Brazil in a friendly at Giants Stadium in June "a very dirty game." Brazil received five yellow cards, the Americans two. The U.S. players say the Brazilians do not just foul, but foul with purpose and leave them battered and bruised. Wambach, the team's primary frontline target, was the recipient of at least seven hard tackles in that June match.

"Their style of play is a physical game," O'Reilly said. "I don't think they are going to let us hold on to the ball for very long. We'll get it stripped or get our legs taken from under us, so we have to keep the ball moving and bring our technical game, or else we are going to pay for it."

World Cup Notes: Defending champion Germany, which has yet to concede a goal in the tournament, will play Norway in Wednesday's semifinal in Tianjin. The longtime European rivals have met in the World Cup just once before, a 2-0 Norwegian victory in the 1995 championship game in Sweden.

Germany leads the all-time series 12-11-5, but in two matches this year dropped a 2-1 decision at the Algarve Cup in Portugal and tied, 2-2, in a pre-World Cup friendly.

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