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U.S. women rise to occasion on stage set by ref's awful day

by | CBSSports.com Columnist
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To those of you who enjoyed the U.S.-Brazil Women's World Cup match Sunday, there are some people to thank:

Marta, who is brilliant on brilliant.

Abby Wambach, who saved the U.S. team and elevated its profile.

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And Jacqui Melksham, who offered that extra bit of what America likes in its international events -- the jingoism that comes from feeling victimized.

Melksham is the Australian referee who invigorated the still-larval American audience for women's soccer with one controversial (though at least arguable) call and one utterly baffling one to put the U.S. in a hole that only gargantuan effort could overcome.

That effort came in almost surely the finest hour in the history of this much-decorated side, a 5-3 victory on penalty kicks after a 2-2 tie. Fans were made, remade and recharged in two hours and change, and all because Melksham and her crew seemingly had hosed the Yanks too often.

In truth, the officials had a bad day on both sides. Carli Lloyd got a pass on an obvious hand ball after already having a yellow card, and the own goal 74 seconds into the match was purest luck.

You know (and have bitched loudly) about the ways the Americans got squeezed, too, so we'll move on from that.

Fact is, though, America doesn't get to legitimately play the wronged underdog very often, and they were wronged so profoundly that they won over the largely German crowd at Rudolf-Harbig Stadium. For a change, our whining about how the world hates us turned out not to be so.

The rest was left to the 10 players, who cheated logic, numerical disadvantage, the run of play (often) and sheer competitive gravity to produce a moment, and a day of incandescence.

And it would not have been possible without Jacqui Melksham.

Abby Wambach gets off her dramatic game-tying header. (AP)  
Abby Wambach gets off her dramatic game-tying header. (AP)  
This won't come as much comfort to her, as she will hate her work in this game. She is like most officials, taking pride in the effort and wanting to officiate the perfect event, and she didn't. She is not a brigand or a thief, just a woman who had a rancid day of the office. She'll be miserable for some time.

But truth be told, a lot of heroes and a lot of feel-good tales and warm fuzzy feelings across the country were made on her shoulders, and whether you like that story line or not, it remains true.

America didn't just win. America overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to win, and insurmountable odds is a more popular opponent than any nation on earth.

Well, let us amend that. Insurmountable odds, an extraordinary player in Marta, who does not deserve the abuse she is taking from these shores, and some classic soccer cynicism in the Brazilians' play, which does.

It is the stuff of melodrama, and the stuff of instant classics (an oxymoron if ever there was one), and the stuff of stories you will tell your friends over a beer even if you never choose to give a damn about soccer ever again.

Most of you will hate this analysis, and that's fine. We don't read the comments anyway. Hell, we don't even listen to the boss. But know this: This was a day that will resonate every bit as much as Brandi Chastain's invention of the sports bra, and it doesn't happen without the extra added ingredient, "The Ref Screwed Us, Original No. 7."

So as you luxuriate in this effervescent feeling, whether you be Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, Ali Krieger, Pia Sundhage, Ian Darke -- who reaffirmed his play-by-play brilliance with a glorious call -- or just someone who watched, you owe a debt of gratitude to Jacqui Melksham, without whom none of this would be possible.

OK, maybe not a debt. Maybe just a moment of thanks.

OK. Moment's over. Now back to your homes, citizens. Nothing more to look at here.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com.

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