For the first time in at least a year, a United States women's national soccer team its fans could recognize appeared Sunday.
Playing their best game of the World Cup, the Americans overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to defeat mighty Brazil -- 5-3 in a penalty-kick shootout after overtime ended 2-2 -- and advance to Wednesday's semifinal (10:30 a.m., ESPN) against France.
The expected teamwork, the hustle, the never-say-die, play-'til-you-drop attitude were all on display, and this ranked with the best American soccer victories of all time.
FIFA and Australian referee Jacqui Melksham caught a break, too. She and her assistants were just as responsible as the Brazilians for the goals against the United States.
Melksham changed the course of the game when she whistled United States defender Rachel Buehler for a phantom foul in the penalty area against Brazilian superstar Marta in the 66th minute Sunday, sending Buehler off with a red card and awarding Brazil a penalty kick.
When former Chicago Red Stars forward Cristiane missed the penalty kick, Melksham awarded another, either for encroachment of the penalty area by an American player -- in which case the punishment was like throwing a driver in prison for going 5 mph over the speed limit -- or arguing, wrongly -- that goalkeeper Hope Solo came off her line to make the save.
Forced to play 10-on-11, the Americans still outplayed the pretournament co-favorites, even in overtime, when Brazil took a 2-1 lead.
The goal that tied the game seconds before its overtime end, by Abby Wambach and assisted by former Red Star Megan Rapinoe, was startling not only for its timing but that it came after the Americans had been short-handed for nearly an hour, even running counter to the amateurish outing by the referee.
But this was only a quarterfinal. The good news for the United States is that mighty Brazil and host Germany are out of it.
The United States is the only remaining women's soccer superpower in the field and will be favored to win the championship next weekend.
Still, we've seen what happens to favorites in this tournament, and the United States didn't exactly impress in group play. The players have just a couple of days to recover mentally and physically from an incredibly demanding game.
But at least for one day it didn't seem to matter that Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy and Brianna Scurry are retired and in the broadcast booth.
For one game, at least, Hope Solo and Abby Wambach, Ali Krieger and Megan Rapinoe showed American fans they could be just as heroic.