After throwing away a three-goal lead in the second half last night, tired and embarrassed Brazil turned to its magnificent midfielder, Sissi, and escaped Nigeria, 4-3, in sudden-death overtime at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium to advance to the Women's World Cup semifinals for the first time.
In the 104th minute, with her teammates gasping for breath and a penalty-kick tiebreaker looming, Sissi struck a left-footed, 24-yard free kick over the defensive wall. It streaked just out of the reach of leaping reserve goalkeeper Judith Chime and glanced off the inside of the left post.
After her tournament-leading seventh goal settled into the net, the nearly bald Sissi dashed around the field and waved the front of her golden jersey before she was mobbed by teammates. She then led the team's victory lap around the stadium and leaped into the arms of delirious Brazilian supporters hanging over the retaining wall.
"It's going to be the goal that I will remember the most for the rest of my life," said Sissi, who was involved in the prior three goals before disappearing from the attack in the second half.
Brazil raced to a 3-0 lead after 35 minutes on two goals by midfielder Cidinha and one by defender Nene. But Nigeria regrouped in the second half, scoring three times in 23 minutes to force overtime, capped by Nkechi Egbe's equalizer in the 85th minute.
Nigeria's momentum was crushed two minutes later, however, when forward Patrice Avre received her second yellow card and was ejected. That left the Super Falcons a player short for the last few minutes of regulation and overtime.
With Nigeria's attack paralyzed and Brazil struggling to reestablish its attack, Sissi made the difference in her most dangerous setting -- a dead-ball situation.
"For us as Brazilians, [Sissi] is the best in Brazil and the best in the world," Coach Wilson Oliveira Rica said. "For us, Sissi is the queen of soccer."
Nigeria's comeback was stained only by Coach Ismaila Mabo's postgame comments.
"I am not happy with the way my players were treated," Mabo said amid a series of comments about Mexican referee Virginia Tovar Diaz, "but I'm not complaining."
Brazil appeared headed for an easy evening.
In the fourth minute, Sissi delivered a free kick deep into the penalty area, and after a couple of deflections Cidinha redirected Raquel's shot into the net.
The second goal came in the 22nd minute. Once again, Cidinha scored. Once again, Sissi was involved, this time with a cross that Cidinha nodded inside the right post from three yards.
In the 35th minute, Brazil expanded its lead on a bizarre goal. Overlapping from her right back position, Nene collected Sissi's pass and innocently lofted a lazy ball toward the far post. It was too deep for any teammate, and everyone watched as goalie Ann Chiejine drifted . . . and drifted . . . and drifted until the ball fell over her outstretched arms.
Four minutes later, Mabo removed the sunken Chiejine in favor of Chime, and the competitive portion of the match seemed over. More than half of the large crowd was gone by the start of the second half, but those who left missed a sensational ending.
Prisca Emeafu's noble individual effort in the 63rd minute resulted in a free run into the box and a calm finish to cut the deficit to 3-1. Emeafu rescued Nigeria a few minutes later with a sliding clearance on Pretinha's shot that had beaten Chime and appeared to cross the goal line.
In the 72nd minute, Nkiru Okosieme put a rebound of her own saved shot past the fallen Maravilha to make it 3-2. Then, with about five minutes remaining, Egbe took Rita Nwakide's nifty touch pass in tight space and sent a lunging 16-yard shot into the lower right corner.
But in overtime, Sissi rescued Brazil from an embarrassing fall.
Said Nene: "In Brazil, things are like that -- suffering and then relief."
CAPTION: Brazil's Cidinha (5) earns hearty congratulations from teammates Sissi, center, and Nene after scoring team's first goal against Nigeria. The game ended too late for this edition.
CAPTION: Sissi, left, and Nene celebrate a goal by Brazil. Said Coach Wilson Oliveira Rica: "For us, Sissi is the queen of soccer."
CAPTION: Sissi embraces teammate Nene (2), who scored Brazil's third goal. Sissi went on to score game-winner in sudden-death overtime. Brazil will play U.S. on Sunday.