PALO ALTO, Calif. -- On a day when America was celebrating its 218th birthday, the nation's soccer team was trying to pull off one more miracle.
Happy Birthday, America.
Goodbye, World Cup '94.
The Bebeto and Romario combination, one of the most lethal in soccer, teamed up for a goal as Brazil defeated the United States, 1-0, in the second round of World Cup competition yesterday.
Bebeto scored in the 74th minute for Brazil, which will meet the Netherlands, a 2-0 winner over Ireland yesterday, in the quarterfinals Saturday in Dallas. The loss ended America's finest showing in the tournament as the United States finished with an upset win over Colombia, a tie against Switzerland and 1-0 losses to Brazil and Romania.
"To score a goal the way they did, Romario getting the loose ball, sending that pass to Bebeto, who made an incredible shot, was amazing," said U.S. assistant coach Timo Liekoski.
"In the first half, after they missed a couple of shots, I thought the soccer gods were looking down on us. But with their heritage and tradition, I forgot that some of their former players are the soccer gods."
It was a festive event for the crowd of 84,147 who packed Stanford Stadium. A large portion of the Brazilian fans showed up four hours before the game, singing, dancing and playing the steel drums.
But the Americans were out in impressive numbers, too, painting their faces and turning their bodies into human American flags.
"We felt pressure from countrymen for this game," said Bebeto. "We knew it was going to be tough because it was U.S. Independence Day. They were going to have mighty spirit."
The Americans played well early, and did all the things they needed to do to win. They crowded the middle passing lanes and shut down the give-and-go from Bebeto to Romario. They forced a lot of the shots from the outside, so goalie Tony Meola always had a clear view of the ball. They controlled the ball at midfield, letting Tab Ramos run their point of attack.
However, within a three-minute span midway in the first half, Brazil had three excellent chances to score. Romario hit a post twice, Santos Marcio's header sailed over the goal and Bebeto's shot went just to the right of the goal.
"When things are going right for Brazil, they are unstoppable," said U.S. defender Fernando Clavijo. "But if you frustrate them early, you got a chance. I could see it in their eyes. They were
arguing and fighting with each other."
But the turning point may have come in the 44th minute. That's when Brazil's Leonardo elbowed Ramos in the temple, causing a small fracture above Ramos' left ear and a second-stage concussion.
Ramos was removed from the field on a stretcher and taken to Stanford University Medical Center, where he was held overnight for observation. Leonardo was ejected.
Team physician Dr. Bill Garrett said Ramos has suffered a small amount of bleeding. "But it is not a serious problem," he said. "He's doing fine and he's expected to be released [today]."
Leonardo's ejection meant Brazil had to play a man down. But, instead of the Americans attacking, they stayed in the defensive shell despite having an extra-man advantage for 46 minutes.
"It's not the first time a team with a man down was able to beat us," said U.S. coach Bora Milutinovic. "Brazil had the ball more in the second half, that was the deciding difference in the entire game."
U.S. midfielder Hugo Perez disagreed.
"The crowd is behind us, we're even at that point, and if we score, all the momentum shifts to us," said Perez of Ramos' injury. "I don't want to be critical, but we should have changed the game plan at that point.
"We're the underdogs. We had nothing to lose. I think if we score, we break their backs."
Instead, U.S. weaknesses were exposed. Ramos is a creator and one of the team's few bona fide scorers. His pass to Thomas Dooley in the penalty area in the 12th minute produced the team's only serious scoring chance. The other great U.S. improviser, midfielder John Harkes, was suspended for yesterday's game after receiving two yellow cards.
"It is obvious that we don't have the depth yet of some of our competition," said Clavijo, who was ejected with about five minutes left in the game after drawing his second yellow card. "With those two out, we couldn't generate much offense. And when Brazil controls the ball, they are like kids. They don't want to give it back."
The Brazilians kept up the pressure in the second half. Romario missed a shot on an open goal in the first three minutes of the second half. Bebeto and Romario were inches away from completing a give-and-go for a goal nearly a minute later.
Then, 8:48 into the second half, Romario had a goal disallowed because he was offside, one of three Brazilian goals nullified yesterday for that infraction.
"I was not worried during the game -- because that is the way soccer is -- you struggle during the entire game," said Romario. "We were creating space and opportunities."
No team does it better. The Brazilians win with aesthetically pleasing soccer consisting of one-on-one moves, coordinated short passes along the ground and relentless movement up the field.
It was in the 74th minute that Romario took an errant pass at midfield and chipped a pass through three defenders to Bebeto.
Bebeto had an angle and a step on defender Alexi Lalas. His shot went past the outstretched leg of a sliding Lalas and inside Meola, who was moving over to his left.
Perfect pass. Precise shot. Goal.
"I had to be quick on it, because I only had a fraction of a second
to make the goal," said Bebeto. "I was lucky."