STANFORD, Calif. -- They call her "The Rock." And "The Wall." On Sunday, Briana Scurry earned a new nickname: "The Savior."
There were few Fourth of July fireworks by the U.S. team as it qualified for the Women's World Cup final. Thanks to goalkeeper Scurry, there didn't need to be.
"Thank God Bri is on our team," U.S. star Mia Hamm said after the Americans beat Brazil 2-0 to advance to the championship match with China. "If there is a breakdown in the back, we know Bri will get to it. She was awesome today. Bri showed she is one of the best goalkeepers in the world."
Which is exactly what the Americans needed in what wasn't a sharp offensive performance by the usually dynamic hosts. Although Cindy Parlow and Michelle Akers found the net, the U.S. team would not have found its way to the Rose Bowl for next Saturday's final had Scurry not been so stingy.
"Any game where I can do my part and get my team in the final of the Women's World Cup is my best game," Scurry said of her 52nd career shutout and third of the tournament. "I definitely think today was my best effort in my five years playing on the team."
The Americans celebrated their second trip to the World Cup final in the three times the event has been held -- they won in 1991 -- by sprinting to the far end of the field to congratulate Scurry. She then left the field pumping her arms above her head and saluting the crowd of 73,123.
"The fans definitely made a difference for me," Scurry said. "It's great to see the outpouring of people supporting us."
Scurry made several strong saves in the first half, then was spectacular in the second period. With the Americans protecting a one-goal lead on Parlow's early score, Scurry tipped a 35-yard shot by Nene over the net. She also barely got a hand on Nene's kick in the 56th minute and made a sprawling two-handed stop on Pretinha in the 83rd.
That, plus Parlow's goal in the fifth minute and Akers' penalty kick in the 80th, was enough to ensure some lively celebrating after the match. Five years ago to the day, Brazil beat the United States 1-0 in the men's World Cup. It was the most significant soccer game Americans had played -- until Sunday.
"We knew from Day 1 it would not be easy, with all these tough teams," Hamm said. "It has not been easy. But it has been rewarding. We can be happy about this tonight, but our goal is to win, and this is an opportunity to reach our goal."
For the first time in the tournament, the Americans did not have an early gaffe. Instead, it was Brazil's goalkeeper who made the goof, and it cost her team a goal.
Julie Foudy's long cross from the right wing went directly to keeper Maravilha. But as she leaped for it, the ball went off her hands into the air and Parlow headed it home in the fifth minute.
"It was a big lift for us and took a little pressure off," Parlow said. "We were able to relax and play our game instead of being behind and having to score."
The U.S. team pressed for a while, but then the visitors began to click with their passes. Scurry had to be quick to make a diving hand save on Pretinha in the 30th minute, and Akers made a superb clear near the goal line on Pretinha's cross moments later.
Akers was knocked around a few times in the opening half, once needing to leave the game after being kicked in the head by Sissi, who drew a yellow card. But it was a controversial foul on Hamm that brought the penalty kick with 10 minutes left.
Carla Overbeck's goal kick was headed downfield by Akers to Hamm, who broke into the penalty area. She was nudged by Brazil captain Elane and went down. Referee Katriina Elovirta signaled the penalty kick.
"FIFA should punish the referee," Brazil coach Wilson de Oliveira said. "In such a match of importance, to have poor quality refereeing with so many fouls not being punished ..."
Before the kick, Elane grabbed the ball, holding it above her head, sarcastically summoning the crowd to cheer.
Instead, the fans held their breath until Akers put the shot into the right side of the net. Then they roared their approval as Akers, the team's oldest player at 33, jumped up and down like a schoolgirl.
"Those are the moments you live for in this sport," she said.
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