Brazilian scholars Sebastião Votre and Ludmilla Mourão observe that there are “two faces” to media representations of the women’s game, “skill and sensuality.” These two qualities are divided, as the media uses one player to represent beauty, another to represent skill – and pits the two against each other, as bitter rivals. In sports media, being beautiful and skillful are understood as at odds with each other. It’s a displacement of the larger problem, in which being a woman is understood as at odds with being an athlete.
The relationship between the USWNT and Brazil is at risk of being cast in these terms. I open with the above academic point as a caution against playing into such narratives.
That said, tonight’s match absolutely was beauty and the beast. The game was both, at once – a tornado of the awful and the amazing.
Take the first goal: It was a pretty play but an own goal. A forced error. The second, more ugliness: Buehler with a professional foul in the box (from what I'm seeing, the red card was not controversial outside the US). But then Solo blocked a penalty from Cristiane. It was beautiful. A real stunner of a save.
And it was waved off. Do over.
A defender (I hear) came into the box early. But at the time, announcers said the referee called Solo for coming off her line (she hadn't). I still don't know why the referee awarded the do-over. Or the yellow to Solo, for that matter.
Marta took that second try. (How is that allowable?) And that was that.
Beautiful shot, shitty goal.
The USWNT looked very organized and brutal through much of the game. By brutal, I mean physical, powerful, aggressive.
But Brazil was throwing red flags in front of the bull. Again and again players would attempt to take the ball through a defensive hive, looking as much for the foul as the pass. Fouls came (and were or were not called), but so did passes – including a marvelous one from Maurine tipped into the goal with a freakishly acrobatic strike from Marta. Maybe Maurine was offside – journalists tweeted the photo and it’s a close call. So Brazil went up. Either way, the goal was pure genius.
After this point, everything is a haze. The refereeing was atrocious. Monstrous.
Brazil did everything it could to wind down the clock, hoping to guard its lead by lying down on the field. Ericka, in fact, did just that. After some minor scrap, the play moved away from her – she moved from near to far post, looked around to see who was watching her – and just lay down in front of the goal. Ugly.
The USWNT did not lose their focus. In the last minutes of the game, they seemed to get back a strange rhythm – as if they’d been playing on a really shitty field and suddenly knew all its kinks.
Ericka’s acting most certainly contributed to the awarding of three minutes of injury time. This is about when Rapinoe delivered an incredible ball into the danger zone and one of the world’s most dangerous players ran in for it. Abby Wambach scored a beautiful goal – the game’s first, really, and it was the equalizer.
Penalties – again. Karmic law dictated that Solo would save another penalty kick –that it would be off the foot of Daiane, who’d scored Brazil’s own goal earlier, and any doubts about what Solo might have saved in 2007 were laid to rest by what she saved in 2011.
Once again, the team with possession somehow did not dominate the game. Which is, of course, what happens to Brazil, over and over again. Which is why so many of us want to see them break though. But not by lying down on the field!
The USWNT played a woman down for the last 20 minutes of regulation time, and another 30 minutes on top of that. Marta and company get under the team’s skin – it was clear. But the USWNT was never completely rattled. They’ve seen it before.
The US women squared their shoulders to the contradictions within the game, and kept playing – it was a terrific performance under extremely trying conditions. A hard earned, classic USA win.
All that stuff about women not diving, not engaging in cynical gamesmanship? It’s complete bullshit, and everyone who has actually played with women knows it. Can we put that myth to rest? We play beautiful football, we play beastly football. And as the level of the game improves, it will only create more torque as one force pulls on the other. Often within the same team, and the same player. Marta.
Fortunately, Hope Solo seems to keep her beast confined to her tweets.
ref: "Women's Football in Brazil: Progress and Problems" in Soccer and Society, volume 4, issue 2-3 (2003), pp. 254-267.