Brazil has blessed this Women's World Cup with style, elegance and a dozen wonderful goals. But yesterday afternoon, in a moment of desperation at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, it added a fresh element to the tournament: drama.
Trailing by a goal and with the referee preparing to blow the final whistle, second-half substitute Maicon scored on a wild sequence in front of the net to forge a 3-3 draw with Germany and secure first place for Brazil in its rugged first-round group.
"In Brazil, there is a saying that God is a Brazilian," Coach Wilson Oliveira Rica said. "This proves it once more."
The tie felt like a victory for Brazil (2-0-1), which will avoid the favored United States in the quarterfinals and instead will play Nigeria Thursday night at Cooke Stadium. The Americans, who beat North Korea 3-0 last night, will play Germany here on Thursday.
In addition to the Brazilian thriller, an appreciative crowd of 22,109 saw the Nigerians defeat winless Denmark, 2-0, to become the first African team to go beyond the first round.
The 90 minutes of regulation had expired in the Brazil-Germany game with the usually unshakable Germans (1-0-2) holding a 3-2 lead. But referee Im Eun Ju of South Korea added about four minutes to account for time lost to injuries.
Brazil pushed forward one final time and Maicon was fouled by Tina Wunderlich along the end line just outside the penalty area. Maicon rolled out of bounds in apparent pain -- an ankle injury, she said afterward -- and needed a moment before returning.
When she came back, Sissi sent the free kick to the six-yard box. The ball was headed by teammate Elane and then deflected by a German defender to Maicon, who settled it and then lifted a left-footed shot from eight yards into the upper-right corner.
The Brazilians danced deliriously. The Germans fell to the scorched turf. Seconds later, the whistle sounded for the final time.
"I thought, `I'm going to attack, I'm going to score a goal, the last minute is about to end,' " said Maicon, a 22-year-old forward who entered in the 65th minute.
Germany overcame a 2-1 deficit at halftime to take the lead on goals by Bettina Wiegmann in the 46th minute and Steffi Jones in the 58th minute. But the 1995 runner-up Germans, whose poise and endurance seemed to wear down the Brazilians, faltered in a routine situation.
"It was stupid to make a foul," Jones said. "We were always nervous when they got a free kick. It was like, `Okay, just this one and we'll get it.' And we didn't get it."
Said Coach Tina Thuene-Meyer: "The foul was not necessary. . . . The game was ours."
It appeared that way at the start after Birgit Prinz slipped the ball under goalkeeper Maravilha in the eighth minute for a 1-0 lead. But Brazil, which won its first two games by a combined 9-1, found a rhythm and controlled play for much of the half. Katia da Silva scored the equalizer in the 15th minute with a running 18-yard effort and five minutes later Sissi added her tournament-leading sixth goal with a curving 28-yard free kick.
But Germany regrouped and needed only 30 seconds of the second half to get even. Prinz was taken down in the box by Suzana, and Wiegmann smacked the penalty kick into the lower-right corner.
After Inka Grings's header hit the left post, Jones set off on a brilliant run through the heart of Brazil's defense in the 58th minute. She regained the ball a moment later and struck a 16-yard shot that deflected off a Brazilian defender and past helpless Maravilha.
The goalies kept the score unchanged for a long stretch as Maravilha blocked Prinz's effort deep in the box and Silke Rottenberg dived to her left to deny Sissi. But with time about to expire, Brazil stirred one final time.
"I knew this was the last opportunity we would have," said Sissi. "We kept our heads together and held our faith."
Nigeria (2-1) didn't need a last-minute uprising; just goals by Mercy Akide in the 25th minute and by Nkiru Okosieme in the 81st to down Denmark (0-3).
It also survived a couple of dangerous moments just before Okosieme sealed the victory with her 17-yarder off a Denmark turnover. Nigerian goalkeeper Ann Chiejine tipped Jeanne Axelsen's high bid over the net and Merete Pedersen's header struck the crossbar.
Akide's second goal of the tournament capped an excellent sequence. Eberechi Opara started it with a long ball to Patience Avre, who pushed a pass to Akide for a powerful run past a defender and a sharp shot between goalie Dorthe Larsen's legs. "The short conclusion for me," Denmark Coach Jorgen Hvidemose said, "is that we are not good enough."
CAPTION: Brazil forward Maicon, center, who entered in 65th minute, is greeted by teammates Sissi, left, and Formiga after goal in waning seconds secured 3-3 draw.
CAPTION: Sissi curves shot around German wall on 28-yard free kick to score her tournament-leading sixth goal. Brazil plays Nigeria in quarterfinal Thursday.
CAPTION: German defenders look on in dismay as shot by Brazil forward Maicon beats goalkeeper Silke Rottenberg in the fourth minute of second-half extra time.