Heart Trumps Heart


Every once in a while, we get to witness something greater than the spectacle itself.  There’s no telling when or if it will happen, so when it does, it is always special.

The spectacle I witnessed recently was the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.  Needless to say, I was rooting for the American Women, ranked number 1 in the world.  Match after match, the ladies demonstrated the heart, discipline, stamina, fierce competition and high drama that is sports in general, and international sports in particular.

But two of the U.S. matches were greater than all of that, and each one caught me completely off guard.  They reminded me that sports is a mirror of the struggles we all go through in life, and that sometimes, even when only one is declared the winner, we all win….

The first match that struck me was the U.S. quarterfinal against Brazil.  Given our ranking, anyone who follows soccer knows about the tradition of excellence in Brazil.  This match promised to be special, but little did I know it would turn out to be the greatest match of any sport I’d ever seen.

The U.S. went up 1-0 early in the match, and although Brazil dominated play, the American women held on to their lead well into the second half.  In the 69th minute, an American defender was given a red card (tossed out of the match) for fouling a Brazilian attacker in the penalty area.  Brazil was awarded a penalty kick.  For those that don’t follow the game, penalty kicks are almost certain goals.   The American goalie, Hope Solo (has there EVER been a better name in sports?) defied the odds by blocking the kick.  One of the referees, however, made a hugely controversial call by declaring that one of the Americans entered the area early, and awarded Brazil a SECOND penalty.  Brazil subsequently tied the match, and the American women were faced with the daunting task of playing the rest of the day down one player to a world powerhouse.

It took tremendous heart for the Americans to fight  to a 1-1 tie at the end of regulation.  And their heart was tested even more when Brazil went up 2-1 on a brilliant goal by star player Marta early in the first overtime period.  The two sides continued with that score until extra time in the final period.  With just about one minute left, the American women tied the match on an incredible cross-pitch pass that eluded Brazil’s goalie and was headed into the net by forward Abby Wambach.  It was the latest goal (in terms of game time) in Women’s World Cup history.  The U.S. went on to win on penalty kicks.

I mention the details of the match only to highlight what it took for our ladies to win: HEART.  Talent is great to have.  Ambition is even better.  But neither of those attributes matter if they’re not accompanied by the heart it takes to overcome the inevitable controversies that are thrown at you.  Even when things seem unfair, and even when the obstacles seem insurmountable, only your heart will make you successful.

The second match that struck me?  The final – U.S. vs. Japan.  The Japanese players not only overcame the talent and physical dominance of the U.S. women (we were generally MUCH taller and stronger), they overcame the heartache and disaster of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated their country earlier this year.  They fought for country in more than a symbolic way, and their heart took them to the top of the world in women’s soccer.

We can learn a lot from these incredible women.  This was a tournament I won’t forget, because in sport, as in life, only heart can trump a heart.

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