Brazil's "Samba Queens" were quick and skilled, dribbling so marvelously it seemed the soccer ball was attached to their feet by invisible strings. The German players were much bigger, powerful shooters, well-conditioned and relentlessly determined. So it was that teams with bountiful and contrasting talents turned the Women's World Cup seriously competitive yesterday at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium. They gave us the best game in the tournament so far, one that surely will be recalled as the women's sport builds its own history.
This game even outdid the Brazil-Germany men's game in 1993 at RFK Stadium, when Germany, seemingly beaten, rallied from 0-3 in the second half to tie, 3-3.
This one, played before 22,109 boisterous fans, also ended 3-3, but only after Brazil's Maicon tied the score in extra time, with the referee checking his ticking watch and then waving the game finished. Just like that, Brazil ended the match with the often stunning abruptness of a boxing knockout. Brazil scored a "tie-victory" reminiscent of Harvard's historic 29-29 "tie-victory" over Yale in its 1968 football game.
During Bulgaria's run to the semifinals of the 1994 men's World Cup, Hristo Stoichkov suggested that "God is Bulgarian." But Brazil's tie suggested that if a deity is involved, there is no national exclusivity.
The final-gasp goal not only changed the game's outcome, leaving one German woman stretched on the field in frustration, not exhaustion, but also -- and more important to the Brazilians -- in one electrifying instant altered the matchups for Thursday's quarterfinals doubleheader at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium. Brazil avoided, at least temporarily, having to play the United States, leaving Germany for the Americans. Instead, the Brazilians will play Nigeria, giving them a better chance of making the final four and the July 4 semifinal in Palo Alto, Calif.
The taller Germans leaped to win almost all contested balls in the air -- but not the last one. Little Elane, Brazil's captain, soared to head a free kick by the magical Sissi after a foul that Germany sorely regretted, keeping the ball alive for Maicon's decisive shot. Maicon, translated from the Portuguese, rejoiced: "For us, it's not a tie. For our team, it's a victory. We deserve congratulations."
Before the kickoff, Germany's Bettina Wiegmann was presented flowers on the occasion of her 100th international match. Then the mood changed. The game was played tenaciously. Brazil's Nene was hit in the midsection by a hard-kicked ball; lying near the sideline, she had to be lifted and moved only two feet, and on surged the game. Germany's Inka Grings managed a pass while holding her aching head, then staggered to the sideline. Both women returned in moments. Germany's Tina Wunderlich and Brazil's Katia da Silva collided at full speed, but stretchers for each were waved off.
After the game, Germany Coach Tina Thuene-Meyer sent a message to the Americans: "We think we are tough enough to play another good game." Brazil-Germany was the most exciting game of Washington's weekend soccerfest.
Nigeria beat Denmark, 2-0, in a good Cooke nightcap. But only 12,789 showed up Saturday evening at RFK Stadium to see a laid-back Major League Soccer match between D.C. United and Kansas City. United was casting about for the right lineup at midseason of an overly lengthy league schedule but last-place Kansas City still lost, 3-0.
Some of United's players said they had watched the Women's World Cup on television, especially the U.S. team. A.J. Wood, a noted finisher, expressed admiration for the Americans' ability to finish. He had watched that six-goal outburst by the United States in the first half against Nigeria last Thursday, and he hoped the increase in soccer interest because of the Women's World Cup would carry over to the men's game as well. Brian Kamler was certain it would. "Any time soccer's on [television], it's good," he said. "[The Americans] draw big crowds. It's great for soccer in the United States."
To eight of the women's teams, it's time to say farewell. A youthful Mexican team, good sports, expressed appreciation for the experience. The Canadians, sorry to say, were worried about the future of women's soccer in their country. Denmark's coach, Jorgen Hzidemose, said: "We have never seen so many spectators. It was marvelous." Italy probably was the best among also-rans. Ghana played a rough brand of soccer. Three players drew suspensions -- two for red cards, another after two yellows. Ghana departed with a whine.
"We did not deserve to lose," protested E.K. Afrainie, Ghana's coach. "I think we are used to a different set of rules in terms of penalties. Soccer is a contact sport. I do not know why the least bit of contact in the women's game attracts a card." Ghana wasn't intentionally rough, but certainly naive in international play with an unwillingness to lighten up.
Australia's consolation was a free pass into the Sydney Olympics along with this tournament's top seven quarterfinalists. "We've got a lot of work to do," said Australian Coach Greg Brown. The Japanese scored one goal in three games; had they studied U.S. Coach Steve Sampson's offensive scheme from the 1998 World Cup? North Korea, in a sense, enjoyed a successful visit. No state secrets were revealed.