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Riding Marta to the final

Washington | Sitting in the media center at RFK Stadium, I am trying not to be overcome by laptop envy. The Norwegian journalists seem to have sleek models, much lighter than my 8lb. Dell. But, I suppose if they have come from Norway, I can begrudge them a less cumbersome carry-on.

The media center is staffed by volunteers. I am welcomed by Timothy Carr and Dyane Lehky, who show me where I am supposed to sit during the game. I do not have one of the preassigned seats—those midfield seats go to folks like George Vecsey of the New York Times and Scott French of Soccer America—but am pointed to press seating wrapping around the stadium's west side, toward the Elvin Hayes sign in the "Washington Hall of Stars."


South Korea and France, as seen from the RFK press box.

The offices of D.C. United and the Washington Freedom adjoin the media center, connected by a long hallway. Naturally, there is not much activity in the Freedom end. But it's clear that RFK has completed the transition to soccer facility, although framed photographs of Elton John and Billy Joel (and of many others unknown to me) attest to the stadium's use as a concert venue. A large poster, titled "D.C. Soccer: Where Nations Meet," hangs in the media room and summarizes football's place in the District's culture:

The meeting and mixing of cultures seen on the soccer fields around the District is no accident. Soccer, as we know it, came to Washington with immigrants seeking new opportunities for themselves and their families. Early immigrants from Europe formed soccer clubs not only to continue a familiar leisure-time activity but to welcome newcomers, carry cultural traditions, and help with assimilation to life in a new place. Immigrant groups organized leagues and often used grass-covered vacant lots as playing fields for a growing number of teams. Weekend matches attracted large crowds and were social events reminiscent of home. The role of soccer clubs in Washington continued for later immigrants from Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Their transported traditions influenced the local soccer culture in Washington.

We could not have said it better ourselves.


Yu Wang of China Central Television, caught post-nap.

I strike up a conversation with Yu Wang (left), an engineer with China Central Television, after I notice she has started to rest her head on the table. I suggest that she ask a FIFA person to find her a cot, but I'm not sure Yu understands. Her English skills are admirable on this, her first trip to the United States, perhaps partially as a result of her pocket translator, which looks worn from use. Yu illustrates how it works by typing in a word she looked up earlier, "dribble," and shows me the Mandarin characters that pop up on the LCD screen—presumably the definition. A computer voice (male) pronounces the word: "dribble."

5:00 p.m., Norway v. Brazil: Watching from "press row" as Norway and Brazil take the field, I have to conclude that this is better than television. I have a neatly framed opening through which to watch, clear sight lines to the "Jumbotron" (see day 1 diary) and a power strip at my feet. A smiling woman hands me a lineup sheet, on which I note that Brazil will be fielding an attacking side: six players are listed as forwards, including Katia, Daniela and Marta, though the latter two will no doubt be plying midfield. Ashish Sharma of BBC World Sport sits next to me and seems troubled that he has no seating in the main media section. "It's not so much for this game, it's for Philadelphia tomorrow when the U.S. is playing," he tells a FIFA press officer. He's not being arrogant, just trying to do his job.

In front of me now, as kickoff approaches, the Brazilian central defenders, Juliana and Tania, repeat the ritual from Sunday's match, embracing goalkeeper Andreia before the opening whistle. It's an affecting moment. I promise myself to study Brazil's Roberto Carlos to see if he brings the gesture to Real Madrid or to the men's national side.

About midway through the first half I notice I'm not following the match very well, preoccupied as I am with Sharma, who is fiddling with his mouse and modem and technical accoutrements. I'm not sure what I should be watching for, so I decide just to enjoy the football.

Brazil do seem to be playing well, Marta up the middle and Formiga and Maicon on the wings and, in the 26th minute, Daniela scores. Of course, I'm looking at my laptop at the time, so I can't give much of a description. Perhaps TV is better.

Again, I am looking at the laptop when Rosana scores Brazil's second. But thank God for Jumbotron! Marianne Pettersen's strike, however, as stoppage time commences takes place right in front of me. Brazil, 2-1, at halftime.


Daniela has a word with an international press corps in a stadium tunnel.

7:15 p.m.: Vaunted playmaker Hege Riise comes on for Norway in the 75th minute, with her side trailing 4-1. But there is no change. Afterward, in a dark tunnel beneath the stadium, Brazilians Kelly, Cristiane and Michelle speak with Brazilian and English-speaking reporters. Although I don't realize it at the time, only Cristiane actually played in the game, coming on in the 80th minute. Yet these three offer their opinions about their team and style, saying, through an interpreter, that they can get better. "This team has been together only 15 days," the translator says (click for MP3 file, 120KB [30 sec.]). "They are a very young team, they have two players that are 17, three players that are 18. They still want to get better, much better than they are now. . . . They'd really like to improve every game because they haven't been together." Asked if they are an attacking team, the reply is direct: "Brazilians like to attack. They love to attack" (MP3 file, 121KB [30 sec.]). I also run into Ashish Sharma of BBC (see above), who has been recording interviews. Unfortunately, he tells me, he had his microphone plugged into the "line in" jack instead of the microphone jack.

9:05 p.m., France v. Korea Republic: The Reds' (aka South Korean) supporters are shaking the roof above me, with their drum-and-thunderstick combination. When I say "shaking," I mean literally, as RFK is famous for its "flexible joints." The Koreans in the second half have mounted several realistic scoring chances—Ji Eun Lee and 16-year-old, 5-foot-10 striker Eun Sun Park missing on multiple occasions—and the action has been flowing compellingly. In the 83rd minute, a roar goes up, I look up from my screen and Marinette Pichon is dancing outside the penalty area. France 1-0, but the Koreans counterattack. This has been a very good half, in my view.

Back in the bowels of the stadium, French goalkeeper Celine Marty, South Korea coach An Jong Goan and France coach Elizabeth Loisel take turns in a makeshift interview area. Ferns mark the entrance. I cannot recall anything interesting that was said, or anything interesting being asked (including my own question of Marty, something about her assessment of Brazil, France's next opponent). South Korea missed a lot of chances, France was upset with the refereeing. I realize that the interview room is not the place for insight, but perhaps I knew that already.