Ouch. I won’t bother with dwelling on the final play of last night’s USA game; I think we’ve all seen more than enough of it. But as frustrating as it is, we could be England (or Spain, Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, etc.), going into our final group game with absolutely nothing to play for. It’s the Group of Death. So be it.
Again, we’ll start with the earlier games on Sunday, which were certainly entertaining in their own right.
Russia vs. Belgium
Through the game’s first 70 minutes, it would have been reasonable to say that Russia deserved to win instead of Belgium. However, Belgium certainly took over in the last twenty minutes of the game, due in no small part to the impact of substitute Divock Origi. All three of Belgium’s goals at this World Cup have occurred with the 19-year-old on the field. While this “spark” may partially be due to an extra effort put forth late in the game, it doesn’t matter too much at this point because Belgium are all but assured of finishing in 1st in Group H and avoiding Germany in the Round of 16. — Nick Barton
Algeria vs. South Korea
Most people might have expected a 1-0 or 0-0 result because of the Algeria’s tendency to park the bus regardless of the score, but Vahid Halilhodžić certainly changed it up by having his players attack from the get go. At one point, Algeria had shot the ball 12 times (3 on net) before South Korea had even registered a shot. South Korea showed some fight, but Algeria made a statement today. In 2010, Algeria failed to score a goal; it has tallied five already in this year’s World Cup and is ninety minutes away from its first trip to the Round of 16. And most importantly, Algeria has Islam “Super Slim” Slimani, which is the best nickname of any player at this World Cup. — Nick Barton
I criticized Algeria four years ago for playing boring, stalemate soccer that almost kept the U.S. from advancing out of the group in South Africa. The Algerians managed a grand total of zero goals in three games (while conceding just twice) and were completely anti-competitive. For this very reason, I have been cheering against them in Brazil. And though I never thought they had a chance of sniffing the knockout round, here they are, controlling their own destiny against a less than dominant Russian side. Zero goals in 270 minutes in South Africa and then three goals in 12 minutes against Korea. Go figure. — Matt Bell
Now, to the USA.
Another U.S. World Cup game has ended (disappointingly, to be sure), and the U.S. walked off the field with another result in Brazil. In sweaty Manaus, the U.S. drew Portugal 2-2. They did not lose. They still control their own fate. Tim Howard can smile as he accepts his Man of the Match trophy. Clint Dempsey can chuckle in his postgame interview. Jurgen can wryly smile as he acknowledges what lies ahead – a date with Germany on Thursday, with a multitude of scenarios ensuring U.S. passage to the Knockout Round.
The U.S. sits on four points. Had you approached me before the tournament and offered me this sum after two games, I would have gladly accepted. Such success, in the vaunted Group of Death no less, would have been welcomed far and wide. But now? After this World Cup, the one where the reigning champ was summarily dismissed after two games and a fellow CONCACAF team has probably WON a group with three other former champions, it’s difficult to stomach capitulating to anyone. In this World Cup – the one with all the comebacks and the unlikely heroes and the “anything is possible” Kevin Garnett sound loop playing on repeat.
There were certainly a lot of positives to take from the game, such as the play of Tim Howard, Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, and Matt Besler. But it’s different now. It has to be. With what seems like the whole nation watching, this U.S. soccer seems like it will stew on this game for a little. It will punch itself for not finishing it off. It will rue its missed opportunities and keep itself up at night for not sealing its fate when it could. It will remember the scene in silent bars across the nation, in the living room where the pillows were hurled in disgust and the city park where the amoeba of people sank dispirited as one. But the simple fact that we were expecting to close out the game says a lot about where the U.S. stands as a soccer-playing nation now.
This is an inspiring U.S. side. The comeback kids. The down-but-not-out gang. For 94 minutes against Portugal, U.S. soccer was about to put the finishing touches on perhaps its finest chapter to date. “Group of Death”, the chapter would be entitled, and content would turn skeptical heads across the globe. The big soccer editor in the sky has returned the manuscript, however, and the red ink is there. Not plentiful, mind you, but enough to send the writers back to their office for one final push. The climax must wait till Thursday. No doubt it may still happen, and in fact, it probably will. The U.S. look to advance, and they will live to fight another day, survive to keep American hearts on the fritz for another 90 minutes – and hopefully more.
Tim Howard is right. Football is a cruel game. It’s a bittersweet affair. The fact that U.S. fans can feel this now – and not just be happy to be there – means we’ve gotten to where we can think about seriously competing with the big boys. — Peter Barston
When the cameras showed John Brooks warming up on the sidelines in the second half, a crowd of people behind me in the bar began a “John-ny Foot-ball” chant. It was creative (probably unoriginal, but creative nonetheless) and totally awesome. In a few months, Johnny Manziel will steal the national spotlight as he begins tearing up the National Football League, but for three weeks in June, John Brooks is our Johnny Futbol. Even if he never plays another second in the World Cup, Johnny Futbol will live on forever.
If FIFA is at all concerned with TV ratings, they’d be smart to put the U.S. and Portugal in the same group at every single world cup. The teams have combined to score nine goals in their last two World Cup matchups (the 2002 opener and last night), and there have been more than a couple beauties among those nine. (Read: don’t ever put the U.S. in the same group as Portugal ever again. Cristiano Ronaldo still has another couple World Cup cycles in him. He scares me to death and I want nothing to do with him. Please and thank you.) — Matt Bell
This draw certainly stings. It was a nervy start, but for the majority of the game, the Americans were the better side. The Varela goal hurt a lot, but let’s look at the bigger picture here. In the moment, the tie was more devastating than in actuality. Nate Silver still believes that the United States have a 75.8% chance of advancing to the Round of 16. Out of 9 possible combinations of outcomes for Thursday, seven have the United States going through (thanks to Carl for that one). Even though it would have been nice to win today, we just tied the fourth best team in the world. — Nick Barton
With all the talk about our boys, I think it’s important not to ignore the opposition here. Except for the mistakes that would end up costing the USA the win, I have to say that the USA came in with a game plan specially designed for Portugal’s tendencies (namely Cristiano Ronaldo’s general lack of interest in tracking back). Ronaldo didn’t make much of an effort on defense, and as a result, the USA were able to take advantage of a huge amount of space down the right side of the field, enabling Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin to maraud forward and create chances for the USA. That the USA came into the game against Portugal with such a calculated game plan makes me wonder what Coach Klinsmann will have in store when we face Germany on short notice on Thursday.
Obviously, we would love a win, but how do you think he will go about planning for a very different animal in Germany. Where Portugal (and Ghana, to an extent) get a lot of attacking impact through their forward players, Germany gets almost all of that burst from their highly skilled midfielders of all flavors (after all, the aging but talented Miroslav Klose is the only true striker on the roster). Mario Goetze. Thomas Mueller. Mesut Oezil. Toni Kroos. Philipp Lahm. Sami Khedira. This German team is so deep that they can bring players like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski off the bench. Hopefully Jurgen can push all the right buttons to keep our defense from being sliced and diced with brutal efficiency. — Carl Yedor
Images courtesy of The Telegraph, CBS News, Fox News, BBC, squawka.com
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