History is on the US's side on Sunday, though history's rarely been a useful teammate. More readily, history's a convenient substitute for qualities that take too much investigation, too many words to describe. The US has won 23 of 27 meetings with Brazil. Why? No matter. History!
If the US's past success against Brazil carried the day, they wouldn't have lost to the Selecao in 2007, in the semifinals of the last World Cup. And despite the US redeeming that loss at the Olympics a year later, 2007 won't be far from anyone's mind on Sunday.
That day four years ago is the day you've heard about in every featurette, every preview leading into Germany 2011. Call it the Hope Solo game. Call it the Greg Ryan or Brianna Scurry game, but also call it the excuse. Each label unfairly overlooks a Brazil team that tore the US apart that day Hangzhou, Marta scoring twice to send the US to a 4-0 loss.
Whether Solo was unfairly benched overlooks the fact that her presence wouldn't have mattered. The US was routed. We know enough about Scurry to know Brazil deserves more credit than they've gotten. She wasn't four goals worse than Solo, but the perception that she might have been has fueled a controversy too easily rekindled in the run up to Germany 2011. It's a lazy storyline that's not only been unfair to Solo, Ryan and Scurry, it's been unfair to the team that won that game.
HANGZHOU, ZHEJIANG - SEPTEMBER 27: Marta(R 10#) of Brazil celebrates the winning with her head coach after the Womens World Cup 2007 Semi Final match between USA and Brazil at Hangzhou Dragon Stadium on September 27, 2007 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province of China. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)
Brazil would go on to lose the 2007 final, a second place finish that's become far too common for a team with their expectations. Their 2-0 loss to Germany came after defeat to the US in extra time at the 2004 Olympics, a result that would be replicated at Beijing 2008, where Carli Lloyd's 96th minute winner handed Brazil another extra time loss.
So for all the focus that will be placed on Solo and her chance for a signature moment, Brazil may be the better story of redemption. With their performance in the last three major tournaments having cast them as the world's nearly-women, Brazil has an opportunity to not only continue their quest for an elusive title but vanquish the team they've seen celebrate in front of them twice since 2004.
But that's a best-case scenario of a match that carries huge downside for each team. When two of the top three teams in the world meet, you expect it to happen in the finals or semifinals, but this is the final eight, and now not only will one of the pre-tournament favorites be leaving the competition too soon, but we (the onlookers) are going to be left without of one the world's marquee teams with one week of action left in the tournament. Were this match a semi instead of a quarter, the loser would at least play in a third place match. Instead, we're going to be given an extra week with the Sweden-Australia winner, and while that may prove to be fun and entertaining and a great story, it's not exactly what we were hoping for.
Seeing one of those teams in the semifinals, facing Japan in Frankfurt on Wednesday, will only rub salt into the wounds of the team that loses on Sunday, particularly if it's the United States. That was supposed to be their spot. Had the US beaten Sweden on Wednesday, they would be facing Australia. They would be en route to a matchup with Japan. They wouldn't be facing Brazil in the quarters.
And Brazil's been caught in the flotsam of the US's surprise loss. For the sake of focus and morale, they can't let a feeling of being wronged set in before Sunday's match; however, if they go out on Sunday (a result that would surprise nobody), it will be hard not to rue the US-Sweden result. Why couldn't the States just play better against the Swedes? Why couldn't Brazil have had the manageable draw they'd been anticipated in the bracket's bottom half?
United States' Carli Lloyd, right, and United States' Christie Rampone walk on the pitch following the group C match between Sweden and the United States at the Women's Soccer World Cup in Wolfsburg, Germany, Wednesday, July 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
Not that Brazil's supporters will use bad luck and misfortune as an excuse. Almost blind to the progress of rest of the world, Brazil's support seems to be increasingly curious as to why the most celebrated futebol -ing nation in the world has been unable to claim the biggest prizes in the women's game. They have Marta. Their near misses have shown they're capable. Why no end product? A loss will likely cause a minor existential crisis (amongst those who bother splitting their attentions between Copa America and the World Cup).
For the United States, the crisis will be as tangible as existential. A US loss will feed into the "we have no vision, we aren't producing players" contention that's transcended mere critics and been absorbed by the mainstream (as well as mainstream opportunists). It's a missive that's been common on the men's side for years, but in the face of some small hiccups by the women, the critics have found a new target. Should the US lose on Sunday, the fact that they lost to Brazil won't be consolation. "Remember when we used to beat them" will be the response.
It's an unfair standard, one that ignores the natural evolution of the game, but also one that ignores more important consequences. Rampone and Shannon Boxx are almost surely in their final World Cups, and if Brazil defeats the US tomorrow, this may prove the final US team built around Abby Wambach, who deserves to have her name mentioned amongst the best in US history. If the last line of their World Cup CVs says "lost in the quarterfinals" as opposed to "lost to a good Brazil team," it will only underscore the pathos of these two sides meeting too early. Nobody can be comfortable with Rampone going out like that.
Should the US win, they'll take a huge boost of confidence into a semifinal where they'll be favored. Same goes for Brazil. But more than a sense of accomplishment will be a feeling of relief: We survived that. We didn't go out early. We're still alive to win this thing.
This is no high risk, high reward situation, to evoke a cliche. With both teams expected to compete into the tournament's last day, this is a huge risk, little reward scenario, one that will make for great drama if these teams give us another extra time thriller.