Friday, June 25, 2010
Round of 16
Just one goal makes all the difference. Had Landon Donovan's missed his strike in the 91st minute, had he sent it over the bar (as U.S. players did throughout the game), had the Algerian goalkeeper held on to the initial shot by Dempsey - denying Donovan the rebound, had U.S. keeper Tim Howard failed to make a perfect throw half the length of the pitch to set up the play - had any of those happened, the game would have ended in a 0-0 draw. The U.S. team would already be home, their winless World Cup adventure considered a failure. Coach, Bob Bradley would be out of a job and Landon Donovan would be regarded as the underachieving disappointing face of U.S. soccer.
Instead, the U.S. team beats Algeria advances to the knockout round of 16, winning their group ahead of England. Donovan is a national hero and America's soccer haters have no choice but to put up with all of this for at least a little while longer.
Commentators and fans will be talking about this goal for a long time, and arguing about where it belongs in within the history of U.S. soccer and in rankings of the most dramatic moments in U.S. sports. It's the biggest U.S. soccer goal since at least, well... the one scored by Brandi Chastain in 1999. (It's worth remembering that the Women's Team actually won the World Cup) For now, let's focus on what it means for the U.S. team in the short term. Tomorrow the U.S. plays Ghana in the round of 16. It will be another tough match. Ghana beat the U.S. last time around and was the only African team to advance this year. We've made it this far before. In 2002, the U.S. won a round-of-16 match against Mexico before bowing out to Germany in the quarterfinals. But there's been much greater drama this time and a much larger U.S. audience watching. Americans who saw the white-knuckled win over Algeria finally tasted some of the tension, passion and pride, familiar to other nations. No, it's not going to make soccer a bigger sport than American football. But kids were watching. Plenty of new fans were born.
For a real treat, make sure you listen to the orgasmic call of Landon Donovan's goal by Andres Cantor.
And if all of that is too insane, there's always the classic parody from the Simpsons. .
In my last entry, I noted the observation made in "Soccernomics" about the recent dominance of Western Europe. In the 2006 World Cup. No team from Western Europe lost a match to any team not from Western Europe until the knockout round when there was only a single loss - Switzerland lost to Ukraine on penalty kicks. Well, in 2010, in the First round alone, teams from Western Europe have lost six matches when playing teams from elsewhere. In 2006, there were 9 Western European nations in the tournament and all of them advanced to the knockout stage. In 2010, there were 8 teams and only 4 have advanced. France, Italy, Denmark and Switzerland have already been eliminated. And the South American teams (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay) have yet to lose a single match.
Uruguay 1, South Korea 0
U.S.A. 2, Ghana 1
Germany 1, England 1 (Germany wins on penalty kicks)
Argentina 3, Mexico 2
Netherlands 3, Slovakia 1
Brazil 2, Chile 0
Japan 2, Paraguay 1
Spain 3, Portugal 1