United States 2, Brazil 0
Abby Wambach should have been beaming Saturday night as she walked from Kaftanzoglio Stadium, her ripped jersey tucked away in an equipment bag. She had just helped the United States to its second straight win at the Olympics, a 2-0 victory over Brazil in which she drew the penalty that set up the first goal, scored the second goal and allowed the Americans to overcome what captain Julie Foudy called the "stinkiest half of soccer we've played in a long time."
In the course of it all, though, two Brazilian players went to the hospital with injuries, Brazil's coach accused the Americans of playing "a dirty game," and Wambach picked up her second yellow card, meaning she must sit out the United States' third and final match in group play.
Blood, guts, venom -- and some soccer in between. So much to sort through, even as what should have been the thrust of the evening -- that the U.S. clinched a spot in the quarterfinals, and will play the match with Australia merely to determine seeds -- became an afterthought.
The first subplot, though, would be Brazil Coach Rene Simoes. Serious soccer fans will remember Simoes as the coach of the "Reggae Boyz," Jamaica's men's side that made an improbable run to the 1998 World Cup. He has coached the Brazilian women for just five months, but after his team couldn't capitalize on a brilliant first half in which it toyed with the Americans, he took issue with -- and singled out Wambach for -- what he considered play that was far too physical. He particularly reacted to U.S. Coach April Heinrichs's use of the word "sophisticated" to describe Wambach's goal, in which she sliced through two defenders by smartly touching the ball from her right foot to her left before burying the shot low in the near corner.
"For me, it is a dirty game," Simoes said. "I don't think it is a sophisticated game. I think it is a dirty game. The way you play by your elbows and you push players and you do what you did with Marta's ankle, with Rosana's ankle, and Formiga's ankle, all three of them, they have big swelling in the ankle. I don't see how you can call it 'sophisticated.' "
Brazilian forward Kelly and midfielder Elaine both were taken to the hospital with injuries. Elaine was hurt in the midsection after she collided with U.S. midfielder Lindsay Tarpley in the 73rd minute, but was later released and deemed healthy. Kelly, a substitute, apparently was involved in a collision with an American player, continued to play, but then collapsed, frighteningly, on her own. She was taken off on a stretcher late in the second half and was later found to have a broken right collarbone.
"You could tell that something wasn't right," U.S. forward Mia Hamm said.
Asked if he thought the U.S. players caused the injuries intentionally, Simoes said: "I think so. I am saying, I think so." He used as evidence the Americans' far more physical play in the second half, but admitted he could not be sure.
"It's not the case, never been the case," Heinrichs said. "I think we're one of the cleanest teams in the world."
Said Wambach: "Brazil, they bring it as much as they think that we do."
The United States needed to play differently after halftime. Brazil was more enthusiastic, far faster to the ball and looked to be the better team in the first 45 minutes. Marta, a splendid forward, created chances for herself and others. Formiga, her creative counterpart in the midfield, outran and outthought the Americans. Yet in large part because of U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry -- not to mention some good fortune -- all those chances were turned away.
"I can't remember playing that bad," Foudy said, "and yet, we walk in at halftime saying, 'Hey, we have another 45 minutes to pull our heads out of our [rear-ends] and do something about that."
Just four minutes after halftime, Wambach violently collided with Elaine, and with both players writhing on the ground, referee Dagmar Damkova of the Czech Republic issued Wambach a yellow card, one of three for the Americans on the night.
"It's a little heartbreaking," Wambach said.
Heinrichs believes the rules for yellow-card accumulation determined by FIFA, soccer's governing body, aren't equitable in this tournament. The 10-team field is divided into three groups, two with three teams each and one -- the United States' Group G -- with four. Those in Group G must play three preliminary games, as opposed to two, yet players in all three groups were allowed just two yellow cards in the round. The accumulation resets to zero in the quarterfinals.
Now, the United States must explore how to do things without Wambach, who has scored in both Olympic matches -- she was involved in breaking the scoreless tie Saturday as well. Foudy made the first decent rush in open space for the Americans in the 58th minute -- "The sea parted," she said -- and fed Wambach cutting toward the net. Brazil's Monica took Wambach down just inside the penalty box, the referee made the call, and Hamm converted the penalty kick.
"For all the great play that went on today, we're talking about something I don't even think happened," Heinrichs said. "We're spending all this time on somebody's rant that doesn't really warrant it."