DRESDEN, Germany — The world's best player went up against the best goalkeeper and scored three times. So guess who won?
The goalkeeper, U.S. goalie Hope Solo — hands down.
Despite her goals — two during play and one in the penalty shootout — Brazil's superstar Marta lost a shot at the World Cup title and the goodwill of the fans in one of the most memorable evenings of women's football.
And after the United States' quarterfinal shootout victory over Brazil after a dramatic 2-2 draw, Solo walked away with the player of the match award. No questions asked.
In the end, Solo produced the final memorable moment in this most unforgettable match.
When Brazil's Daiane's lined up for her penalty, Solo stretched out to her right and batted it away, reading the shot perfectly, and having the agility to get there.
Of the nine penalties in the shootout, it was the only save. It gave the U.S. a 5-3 shootout win. Marta of course, converted hers, but it didn't matter.
"Hope, amazing. She's the best goalkeeper in the world," said U.S. captain Christie Rampone. "We kept saying, 'Hope's going to get one. Hope's going to get one. We just have to finish them off.'"
Solo had the sellout crowd of 25,598 eating out of her gloved hands, a picture of cool on a hot afternoon with a low sun slanting into the stadium and temperatures reaching 26C (77F).
There were heated exchanges on the pitch as well, where minute by minute — all 122 of them — tensions rose till the climatic shootout.
Marta found it hard to deal with and she turned into the villain of the match as her brilliant play was offset by constant whining.
It didn't help that she set up and converted Brazil's penalty to level the match in the 65th minute and seemingly secured the second with a delicate volley in the 92nd minute. The crowd still turned against her, with boos and whistles growing louder every time she touched the ball.
"They love me," Marta said about the crowd, in a remark dripping with irony. Even the referee had to intervene, giving her a yellow card for protesting on the verge of halftime.
"We will leave with our heads high," Marta said.
But leave, she will, two games ahead of the final, as Brazil's women again miss out on winning the big one. Brazil finished second in the last World Cup and last two Olympics and this time, Marta would surely show the way.
With two goals, Marta became the joint-best World Cup scorer with 14 overall, equaling Germany's Birgit Prinz on the all-time list. Marta, though, is just 25, while Prinz effectively retired from the World Cup with Germany's loss against Japan on Saturday.
"Yes, she got the goal. It happens I guess," Solo said. "I don't think she was too much of a threat."
Emotions may get in the way of judgment.
Solo has crossed paths with Marta before. The Brazilian was on the verge of scoring the goal that would give Brazil's women the Olympic gold medal in Beijing. Then Solo got in the way with her most memorable save, up to today.Comment on this story
Sunday's World Cup quarterfinals was their first match since that 2008 Olympic final, and again, Solo came out on top. Instead of the cheers for Solo, a lasting memory from Germany for Marta will be the endless whistling and booing.
"I didn't understand why there were so many whistles," Brazil coach Kleiton Lima said. "She was a genius as always."
U.S. coach Pia Sundhage agreed.
"Marta is the best player in the world hands down. However, this team is better than one player," she said.
Especially with Solo in goal.