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Wow! What a day

June 18, 2010 | 9:21 pm 2
By Shaun Schafer

Win and they’re in. That’s how one of the strangest days in World Cup soccer ended for the U.S., Slovenian and English national teams. Even the Algerians went to sleep knowing they could still advance with a win and some help.

Everybody in Group C ended the day the way it started – everyone has a chance to go to the second round. Two of those teams are going to fulfill that chance.

The day didn’t start that way.

At the halftime of the U.S.-Slovenia game, I was writing off the coaching career of Bob Bradley, the second round hopes of the U.S. and questioning my own dedication to the team.

After a dreadful 45 minutes, I was reliving past disappointments. There were the 2006 flameouts against the Czech Republic (3-0) and Ghana (2-1). The 3-1 collapse against Poland (Poland? Poland!) and the rescue by South Korea in 2002 (Great hosts.). There was the whole 1998 meltdown, punctuated by a loss to Yugoslavia (Tell me Steve Sampson, why was Preki not on the field for the entire game?).

My stomach churned, but then this U.S. team did what it seemed most capable of before the tournament, it started scoring. Floundering in a 2-0 hole against a team that had given up only four goals in qualifying, the U.S. started attacking.

The Move: Bradley took off a lost Jose Torres and an ineffective Robbie Findley at halftime. The unlikely pair of Benny Feilhaber and Maurice Edu came on, and the game shifted. In the 48th minute, Landon Donovan delivered one of the goals of the tournament on a no-angle shot that nearly peeled the skin off the Slovenia goalkeeper’s face.

 The team was alive, but I saw it as an attempt to keep the goal differential down.

But the Yanks kept coming. Oguchi Onyewu went off as Herculez Gomez came on as a third striker. And it was Gomez who made a move to get clear in the middle of the box and open the space that Michael Bradley filled with the sole of his shoe and delivered the tying goal.

The Goal: Suddenly, more than pride was on the line. I was watching one of the greatest comebacks in World Cup history. Then, Donovan delivered the perfect free kick and Edu buried it in the roof of the net. For an instant, I was seeing the greatest comeback in World Cup history. And then … no goal.

A whistle pulled the goal back. The reason for the tweet remains a mystery. Suddenly, the referee had taken away a sterling goal.

And the game ended with a 2-2 tie and more questions. U.S. hopes hung on two points and an England team looking to take out Algeria.

The final score there? 0-0.

Now the denied goal looms large. Three points would have put the U.S. in the group lead.

But it all comes down to the third game in the group. If the U.S. and England win, they’re both in. If Slovenia and the U.S. win, they’re both in. If Slovenia and Algeria win, they’re both in. If England wins and Algeria wins by two, they’re both in.

It’s nuts, but if the U.S. wins, they’re in and they could even claim the group. They just have to do one thing they’ve never done and one thing they rarely do – win the third game in the group stage and beat a team they are favored against.

Whatever happens, I don’t think my stomach can handle another day like today.

You’re Kidding: Perhaps I should have seen this coming. The officiating was almost as bizarre as the result in the first game of the day. Germany, playing with 10 men, fell to Serbia 1-0. The double booking and send off of Miroslav Klose in the first half for transgressions that hardly earned a whistle in the second half was ludicrous. Lukas Podolski missing a penalty kick in the 60th minute was surreal. But teams play the game and reputations don’t.

Where Were You: Germany last lost a game in the opening round in 1986. They fell to the Danes 2-0 during the tournament in Mexico. That was the day I learned that the Danes played solid defense and could kill you on a counterattack. Not pretty, but effective.

Who’s Up Front: Findley earned a yellow card for a phantom handball in the first half (This should have been the sign of trouble to come.) and will miss the Algeria game.

So, who pairs with Jozy Altidore?

Bradley could turn super sub Gomez into a starter, or shift Clint Dempsey or Donovan up top. I’m betting Bradley wants to keep Gomez in his hip pocket for a late spark and Edson Buddle gets to go forward.

Your thoughts?

Too Soon: I’m a Torres fan, so I was distraught by his performance. Other than some promising free kicks, he was adrift in midfield. Starting him was a bold move, and it didn’t pay off.

Still, I believe his best days are yet to come.

Midfield Woes: England and Slovenia each found seams in front of goal by coming through the middle of the midfield from right to left. Tim Howard was right to yell at Edu late in the game for middling marking in the same space. Whoever is next to Bradley has to work with him to shutdown that gap. If I can see it from my living room in Denver, every Algerian coach can see it too.

Based on today, I’m ready to put Feilhaber there. Your thoughts?

Fighting for Five: Before the tournament, I predicted the U.S. would need more than four points to advance. Based on results so far, the U.S. could finish with two, three or five points. Five would be enough to go through, and even contend for top of the group. Three would be asking for trouble. Two would be a sure ticket home.

Oh well, at least it won’t be four, the highest total the U.S. has mustered in a group stage, and just enough to advance in 1994 and 2002.

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2 Comments »

  • george tanner said:

    Buddle.
    Feilhaber.

  • Football Gifts said:

    The US should have beaten Slovenia, unlucky, Group C is turning into the most exciting group, I hope the US make it through, with England of course.

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