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Sunday, July 10, 2011
Fan support helped propel U.S. to win

DRESDEN, Germany -- You wouldn't know you were in Germany; you wouldn't know that Germany had been eliminated fewer than 24 hours earlier. The crowd in Dresden, largely and loudly pro-U.S., was volcanic, erupting at the 122nd minute when Megan Rapinoe blasted a cross to Abby Wambach, who in turn nailed the ball to the back of the net and sent the game into penalty kicks.

And that was the difference -- the crowd. "This game was an emotional roller-coaster," keeper Hope Solo said. "This is a fighting team -- down a man, down a goal, this team never stops and the better team won tonight."

The fans really didn't stop, not even when it looked like Brazil's victory was inevitable. They chanted and sang and waved into the final moments of regulation and then sent shockwaves through the stadium when the tying goal was scored. "I didn't hear the crowd at the time -- I didn't hear anything, but I could feel them every time I went in for penalty kicks," Solo said.

It was 12 years ago to the day that the 1999 U.S. team defeated China in penalty kicks at the Rose Bowl. Rudolf-Harbig-Stadion was equally electric.

"It's storybook -- the soccer gods were on our side today," Wambach said. "We just needed Hope to save one ball and I knew we were gonna win."

Brazil had plenty of supporters too, a section and fans that began the day chanting on the trams through picturesque Dresden as they snaked their way through the city. But the team left the stadium in silence, the ball boys carting their Samba drum silently to the team bus.

And that's the difference between winning and losing -- a surge of energy, a blast of ball, the roar of a crowd. "It was unbelievable, the crowd was so emotionally invested in the game," Rapinoe said. "I blacked out, I think, I took a little touch and I don't know, I don't think I've ever hit a ball like that. It's tough sometimes, you just want that goal and you just want it now."

The nearly sold-out stadium of 26,000 wanted that goal, too.