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U.S. women's soccer captures America's attention

Every once in a while, a sports story transcends the field and grabs the nation's collective attention.

And so it is with the U.S. women's soccer team, a fabulous group of athletes who have ridden a wave of mettle and moxie to today's World Cup title game against Japan.

What's not to like about this team?

The goalie's name is Hope Solo. You couldn't make up a better name for a goalkeeper. And her spectacular saves against Brazil - allowed and disallowed - made the difference in one of this country's most dramatic wins since Mike Eruzione was skating around in Lake Placid. Even the Brazilian public, soccer-mad by anyone's estimation, embraced her as a conquering hero after the big win.

Abby Wambach has become one of the most prolific performers in U.S. soccer history, using her head to win in the most literal way possible. Not since Michelle Akers and Alexi Lalas were outjumping opponents for winning headers in the 1990s has U.S. soccer had someone so adept at scoring with the noggin. Wambach has 12 career goals in the World Cup, which ties her for the most by a U.S. player and third most for any World Cup player.

Megan Rapinoe, born and bred in Redding, has emerged as the team's killer waif, finding a way to impact most every game of the tournament in dramatic fashion. Her left-footed cross to Wambach with seconds to go against Brazil soared across the pitch and into history as one of the great passes of all time. And she's not too bad with a microphone in her hand, either, singing "Born in the USA" into one of the field mikes during a game and charming the world with pithy quotes in her postgame interviews.

Cal's own Alex Morgan has emerged, as photogenic as she is talented, providing late spark and scoring opportunities as a substitute while winning over photo editors around the world with her exuberant celebrations. As her father, Mike Morgan, told The Chronicle's Tom FitzGerald, "I didn't think she'd be anything like this. I don't think she's reached the top of her game even yet." At 22, Morgan has a lot of soccer in front of her.

And on the sideline, coach Pia Sundhage has pulled all the right levers. One of the greatest female players in history for her native Sweden, Sundhage scored 71 goals over a 22-year career. And as a coach, she's known for her unorthodox methods. When she first took over the U.S. squad, she famously walked into the locker room, pulled out a guitar and started singing Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'." Four years later, Sundhage pulled off an absolutely brilliant substitution in the semifinal against France, playing Lauren Cheney and Rapinoe together for the first time. It resulted in an offensive surge that capped the win.

So, here they stand. America's team in Germany. Poised to make history. They face a Japanese squad that is playing brilliantly on behalf of a nation that was nearly broken by a brutal tsunami in March. It will be emotional on both sides of the ball.

Win or lose, women's soccer has the world's attention. And it couldn't have happened to a better group of athletes.

Dons coach: USF baseball coach Nino Giarratano is recovering from surgery, having donated a kidney to his 80-year-old father, Mickey.

Both made it out of surgery in good shape. Nino will spend two days in the hospital and then another week in the Denver area before he is cleared to travel back to San Francisco. Mickey is told he will spend a week in the hospital and then up to another month in the Denver area for daily checkups.

It all started last September, when Mickey went in for routine gall bladder surgery. Afterward, his kidneys failed. Facing life on dialysis, his only other choice was a transplant. That's when his son stepped to the plate.

The two men decided the donation was the best course of action, and shortly after the Dons finished their baseball season with a trip to the NCAA Los Angeles Regional, Nino was able to make his way to Denver for the procedure, performed July 11.

Women's World Cup

Today's game

Who: U.S. vs. Japan

When: 11:45 a.m.

TV/Radio: ESPN/1050

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