Brazilians know their soccer history, and this Sunday marks a special soccer anniversary that Brazilian Coach Wilson Oliveira Rica very much would like to honor with a victory.
The setting and circumstances for Sunday's semifinal Women's World Cup match between the United States and Brazil are eerily familiar: It was on July 4, five years ago, that the U.S. men faced Brazil in a World Cup quarterfinal. The game took place at Stanford Stadium, the site of Sunday's game, in front of a crowd of more than 80,000. More than 70,000 are expected Sunday.
The winner of the '94 game went on to win the tournament.
The winner was Brazil.
"Every game is a different story, but sometimes the story repeats itself," Oliveira Rica said after his team's quarterfinal victory over Nigeria Thursday at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium. "We hope the story repeats, because we have a dream to win a world championship."
The Americans, you can be sure, hope history does a screeching U-turn. In 1994, the U.S. team's 1-0 loss to Brazil ended an impressive American run in the tournament. Of course, at that time, Brazil was the soccer superpower and the Americans were the upstarts.
In this tournament, the U.S. women's team brings the longstanding reputation and the championship hardware; it won the 1991 World Cup trophy (after eliminating Brazil, 5-0) and a gold medal in the 1996 Olympics.
The Brazilians come with a short history, an impressive record in this tournament and a soaring reputation as a women's soccer nation.
"Brazil is the most improved team in the world, no question," U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco said. "In 1991, they weren't a very strong team and we beat them rather easily. . . . Sunday's game is for everything. It is going to be a very difficult game for both teams."
Both teams bring high-flying attacks and defenses that recently have been questioned. Brazil is led by its constellation of stars: Sissi, who has scored a tournament-leading seven goals, along with Pretinha and Katia da Silva. Playing a game that resembles that of the electrifying men's team, the Brazilian women have awed fans with their stylish individual play.
The Brazilians, however, surrendered three second-half goals to Nigeria in their quarterfinal match after having taken a three-goal lead in the first half. Sissi won the game with a free-kick goal in extra time.
"We saw something from them for the first time, which was them showing the nerves of playing in the Cup," DiCicco said.
The U.S. team has shown the nerves -- or the uncontrolled adrenaline surges -- of playing in the Cup repeatedly, through early defensive breakdowns. In the Americans' quarterfinal 3-2 quarterfinal victory Thursday over Germany, they gave up an own-goal just five minutes into the match. Two games previous, in a first-round match against Nigeria, the U.S. team allowed a goal two minutes into the game.
To the Americans' credit, however, their defensive lapses have not been fatal. The U.S. team has won four straight matches by a 16-3 margin. The Brazilians have three wins and one tie, a 3-3 match against Germany.
Brazil "is going to come out with a lot of fire," U.S. midfielder Julie Foudy said. "We just have to work through that first 10 minutes."
The U.S. team brings a larger assortment of weapons than Brazil, which has relied on Sissi for much of its Women's World Cup magic. Ten players have scored in the four U.S. victories. Eight players have assisted on goals.
"From an opposing coach's perspective, who do you mark?" U.S. forward Mia Hamm said today.
The one thing Oliveira Rica has already marked is his calendar.
"If we can emulate what happened in that stadium five years ago," Oliveira Rica said, "our dreams will come true."