Bent at the waist, her back to the goal, Marta buried her face in her hands.
Her left-footed blast from 6 yards looked certain to be a winner, the goal that would give Brazils women the Olympic gold medal and their first title at a major tournament.
How, Marta would ask afterward, did she not score?
Hope Solo, thats how.
I just remember Marta being point-blank cracking it, and Hope stretching out and getting a hand on it, U.S. captain Christie Rampone said. Seeing it out of the corner of your eye, yeah, you think its going in. It gave us that adrenaline going forward.
Fired up by Solos highlight-reel save, the Americans would go on to claim their second consecutive Olympic gold medal in Beijing. Brazil, eager to escape the shadow of its brilliant mens team, went home bitterly disappointed, runners-up for the third consecutive time at a major tournament.
The Brazil-United States matchup in todays World Cup quarterfinals is their first since that 2008 Olympic final, and Brazil would seem to have the advantage. Marta remains the most dynamic player in the game, the FIFA player of the year for five years running, and Brazil had little trouble winning its group.
The Americans, meanwhile, lost for the first time in World Cup group play and are in danger of making their earliest exit ever from the tournament.
But the Americans still have Hope, and both sides are well aware of it.
Of course shes a great player, Marta said after Brazils practice Friday night. But I hope I would have the opportunity to score.
Marta hasnt scored yet against Solo in international play; then again, neither have any of her teammates. Solo has started the last four games against Brazil, with the U.S. winning each 1-0. Ironic, considering it was then-coach Greg Ryans decision to sit Solo against Brazil in the semifinals of the 2007 World Cup that sparked such a firestorm.
The U.S. was routed 4-0, its worst loss in history, and Solo ripped Ryans decision afterward, saying, It was the wrong decision, and I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that. Ryan kicked Solo off the team, not even letting her on the bench for the third-place game. A month later, Ryan essentially was fired.
We all respect Hope, and we all love Hope, Lauren Cheney said. We know shes great person and a great soccer player.
Just check out that save in 2008.
Brazil had dominated much of the Olympic final with its dazzling speed and control, forcing Solo to make one save after another. But it looked as if Brazil would break through in the 72nd minute when Marta made a run down the left side. Kate Markgraf and Heather Mitts caught up to her and took the ball away for a second, but Marta got it back and blasted a shot from just outside the 6-yard box.
Solo, tucked alongside the near post, leaned forward, thrust up her right arm and smacked the ball away.
Amazing. Amazing, said Shannon Boxx, still in awe three years later. I just remember thinking, Oh my God, thats just going in. And then knowing Hope saved it. ... Im just glad shes on our side because teams that face us, they know shes the last person before the ball goes in the net. It gives us confidence, and it probably puts a little bit of extra fear into the other team.
Much has been made about the Americans recent vulnerability, with the two-time World Cup champions losing four games since November after going unbeaten for more than two years. But Solo was the starter for only one of those defeats, and even Iker Casillas would have been hard-pressed to stop Lisa Dahlkvists penalty or Nilla Fischers deflected free kick in the 2-1 loss to Sweden on Wednesday night.
(Solo did come on for the second half of the 2-1 loss to England in April, her first game back after shoulder surgery that kept her from Cup qualifying, but England already had scored both its goals.)
Including the two goals against Sweden, Solo has allowed just five since the Olympic final.
Were so confident with her back there, Heather OReilly said. Its also nice to see the frustration on attackers faces when they think the balls in the back of net and shes able to get her fingertips on a shot that nobody else might be able to.
Of course, Marta can do things nobody else can, either.
She scored twice against Norway and had a hand in two of Brazils three goals against Equatorial Guinea in Wednesdays final group game. Despite being tightly defended, she made a low pinpoint cross into the center to set up a score by Cristiane, then won a penalty that Cristiane converted.
Theres a rivalry, definitely, Solo said. We know each other; we respect one another; weve played on All-Star teams together. Yet we dont speak a lot which is the nature of the mystique of a goalkeeper against one of the top goal scorers in the world.
Marta did get a goal off Solo in the WPS last year.
So I hope I can score again (today), she said.
But theres more to this game than simply a Marta vs. Solo showdown: Brazil-U.S. has developed into one of the games great rivalries, with Brazil losing to the United States in the last two Olympic finals but knocking the Americans out of the World Cup in 2007. The U.S. beat Brazil in the 1999 semifinals, then beat China for its second World Cup title.
Its Brazil-U.S. Its a big game, Marta said. Its special.