The Americans are into the semifinals after one of the most thrilling games in the history of the World Cup — men's or women's — beating Brazil 5-3 on penalty kicks after a 2-2 tie. Wambach tied it with a magnificent, leaping header in the 122nd minute, and goalkeeper Hope Solo denied the Brazilians again.
An hour after the game, Abby Wambach was still at a loss for words.
Amazing. Riveting. Dramatic.
Take your pick, any one of them will do.
"I literally cannot believe what just happened," Wambach said. "But we've got two games left."
For Brazil, it is yet another disappointment at a major tournament. And this one is sure to sting more than any others because Marta had it won for the Brazilians on Sunday, scoring her second goal of the game in the second minute of overtime for the 2-1 lead that would have sent the Americans to their earliest exit ever. But Erika stalled when she went down on a tackle, and the delay added three minutes of stoppage time to the game.
That was all the time Wambach and the Americans needed, after pushing themselves to limit while playing a woman short from the 66th minute on.
"Everything seemed to be on the safe side, but it wasn't," Brazil coach Kleiton Lima said. "Unfortunately there was the goal."
Two minutes into stoppage time, Megan Rapinoe sent a blast of a cross from the left side that Andreia didn't come close to getting her hands on. Wambach, one of the best players in the world in the air, made contact and with one furious whip of her head, buried it in the near side of the net.
Wambach let out a primal scream and slid into the corner, pumping her fists and quickly mobbed by teammates. It was the latest goal in World Cup history.
"Not for one second," Wambach said when asked if she ever felt the Americans were beat. "I kept saying, all it takes is one chance. I kept holding up one finger to the girls."
The Americans, shooting first, made their three penalty kicks only to have Cristiane and Marta easily match them. But then it was Daiane's turn — the same Daiane who'd given the U.S. a 1-0 lead with an own goal in the second minute of the game. She took a hard shot, but Solo stretched out and batted it away. Though the U.S. still had to make two more, the celebration was already starting.
After Rapinoe smoked the net with a blast and Ali Krieger converted hers, the Americans raced onto the field, their joy only matched by that of the pro-American crowd of 25,598. Wambach tackled Solo and U.S. coach Pia Sundhage even broke out her air guitar when AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" began to play.
Shake the tournament, the Americans did. The victory came exactly 12 years after the Americans beat China in a penalty-kick shootout to win the title at the Rose Bowl.
The U.S. moves on to Wednesday's semifinals to play France, which eliminated England on penalty kicks Saturday.
"It is a special moment for me and for this team," Solo said.
While the Americans partied, Marta and the Brazilians watched in silence. Cristiane repeatedly wiped away tears during postgame interviews. Despite a star-filled roster led by Marta, the FIFA player of the year five times running, Brazil has never won a major tournament. It lost to the Americans in the two Olympic gold-medal games, and to Germany in the 2007 World Cup final.
"They fought, they did everything," Lima said. "They threw their hearts into it and, of course they were really sad."
The U.S. has now eliminated Brazil at five of the last seven major tournaments. The lone consolation was that Marta's goals, the 13th and 14th of her career, tied her with Birgit Prinz atop the all-time World Cup scoring list. The Americans also have won their last five meetings against Brazil.
None, however, was more memorable than this.
Brazil spotted the U.S. the lead in the second minute with an own goal by Daiane, then spent the next 63 trying furiously for the equalizer — and getting increasingly frustrated with every minute they didn't get it.
When they finally did, it was clouded in controversy.
Marta made a dangerous run into the box in the 65th, beating two U.S. defenders and coming practically nose to nose with Solo before Rachel Buehler tracked back and dragged her down. Referee Jacqui Melksham not only ruled it a penalty but a red card as well. Cristiane, who already scored one goal off a penalty, took the kick. Solo made a perfect read and smacked it away, pumping her fists as Lloyd ran toward her to grab her in a bearhug.
But Melksham ordered the penalty retaken — and gave Solo a yellow card, apparently ruling the American had left her line. Replays clearly showed she hadn't.
"I have no idea," Solo said. "It is what it is."
As the crowd jeered and whistled, Marta stepped up for the retake, staring down her old foe. Solo cost Marta and the Brazilians the gold medal in Beijing, stopping a point-blank blast from Marta in the 72nd minute of the Olympic final. This time, however, Marta got the best of the U.S. 'keeper, burying the ball to pull the Brazilians even.
As she walked away from the spot, Marta slapped her right arm and woofed at the crowd.
Fired up, the Americans repeatedly pushed forward over the last 20 minutes but couldn't get a decent shot. The closest they came was a blast from Rapinoe in stoppage time, but it was from long range and it was never a real threat to Andreia.
Marta seemed to put the game out of reach in the 92nd minute though replays seemed to show that Maurine, the player who fed her the ball, was offside.
But the Americans, criticized after losing four games in the last eight months, have talked repeatedly about their resilience. On this day, it was on full display.