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Posted by Luda Hoe on 06/19/2010

Those Americans ready to dismiss the World Cup as everyone else’s shrine to boredom have been given something to tune back in for. What the U.S., Slovenia and a certain Malian provided was the full gamut of human emotion—despair to euphoria to genuine unadulterated rage. It was like going from a funeral to a wedding to a divorce in the space of an hour.

To look at it from a neutral perspective: it was good enough to preemptively redeem the 90 minutes lost to the abject England game, which, even for a lover of soccer in all forms like myself, I might have traded for a live filming of an infomercial or the even the Sex and the City sequel. I’m not sure what makes for more atrocious viewing: Kim Catrall’s cartoonish post-menopausal efforts to exude sex appeal in a designer dress or Frank Lampard’s efforts to find form in an England shirt.

Despite the wasted time (and money) the scoreless draw was precisely what was required from an American perspective after their 2-2 draw against Slovenia in Johannesburg left them on two points. 90 minutes of scoreless boredom in Cape Town puts their fate firmly in their own hands, an entirely acceptable scenario headed into the final game against Algeria.


Your guess is as good as mine, Landon. © Getty Images

But whether the result should be cherished as a point gained or rued as two points lost is a different question.

As they seem wont to do against former Eastern Block teams in the World Cup, the U.S. started meekly and conceded naively. Akin to the sucker punches they took against the Czech Republic in 2006, Poland in 2002 and Yugoslavia in 1998, the U.S. found themselves trailing inside the first quarter of an hour.

The U.S. defense retreated as Valter Birsa strolled into striking distance and unleashed a curling shot that left Tim Howard a spectator. Questions will be asked of Oguchi Onyewu who only managed to screen his keeper after being too slow to close down the Slovenian playmaker. Dominant against England, Onyewu should be held accountable for both Slovenian goals. This tournament has again shown him to be better siege defender than tactical defender.

In the England game where the English saw most of the ball Onyewu could patrol his area and tackle with impunity given the assurance that he had cover in the midfield. As the Americans pushed forward in search of goals against Slovenia, spaces in front of Onyewu opened up and his decision-making looked decidedly shaky. In the 40th minute, rather than step forward to spring the offside trap, he kept his line, letting Zlatan Ljubljankic steal in to make it 2-0.

The U.S. Eastern Block Curse looked set to continue and with England sure to wallop Algeria later in the night (so we thought) nerves were turning to dejection. An expectant (and sizeable) group of Americans gathered in a corner of the Cape Town Fanzone were looking morose by halftime. Slightly inebriated, sunburned, Stars and Stripes clad zombies ambled from the concessions to the porta-johns much to the amusement of confident England fans who probably thought the group was theirs to lose at this point.

There were signs of life to cling to, however. The American corner spent halftime lamenting Landon Donovan’s reliance on his right foot. Had he slid with his left he surely would have gotten the slight touch required to turn home Clint Dempsey’s smart cross, regardless of Slovenian defender Brecko’s desperate intervention. In a World Cup short on goals 2-0 is a world away from 1-1.

But, as we learned last summer, discount this squad’s powers of recovery at your peril. Donovan restored hope immediately after the break, his near post shot flying past Slovenian keeper Handanovic who looked more interested in securing his smile than his net. The coach’s son, Michael Bradley sent the American corner into a beer tossing, flag waving, stranger hugging frenzy with 8 minutes remaining after Altidore did well to nod the ball into his path. There wasn’t just the euphoria of rescuing something when all seemed lost; there was also the palpable feeling through the crowd that the U.S. were going to go on to win it. At halftime we were coming to terms with the possibility of going home early yet again; in the 83rd minute, we were convinced of going top of the group.

We were right. Unfortunately, one man failed to agree. That man’s name is Koman Coulibaly, who American players, fans and coaches can only hope will be a footnote in a piece of glorious history for U.S. soccer. What he saw or who he saw doing it is still, to this point, a complete mystery. That he blew his whistle just before Maurice Edu finished Landon Donovan’s tantalizing cross is all that matters. The dancing, the jumping, the repeat scenes of strangers hugging (and I swear I saw grown men platonically kissing) were eventually and regrettably halted by the unlucky fools like me who were sadly aware that our winner hadn’t stood. It was like winning the lottery only to have someone tell you that you’re looking at yesterday’s numbers. I’m surprised someone didn’t punch me in the face. I guess that anger had a better outlet.

Confusion quickly turned to vitriol when the jumbotron showed what the American corner were already certain of. We scored. 3-2. We win. We are good. We are amazing. Everyone else: not as good.

The horror is that no matter how many times you view the footage, it never changes. Never do you spot even a slight infringement that might resemble a foul by an American player, something that can temper the vitriol. No grab, no push, no cheeky and barely detectable handball. Nothing. All you see every single time the footage is replayed is an American goal and two or even three Slovenian fouls.

To return to the initial question: 1 point gained or 2 points lost? That’s a question best answered on Wednesday. As for me, I’ll always remember yesterday as the day we beat Slovenia 3-2.

Comments

Posted by Almost a Bears Fan on 06/20/2010

Ny angst is as great as yours. This non-foul call is as bad, maybe worse, than robbing young Mr. Gallaragos of a perfect game on a clearly bad umpire call. We will recover and we will advance with a victory over Algeria!

Posted by Chris on 06/20/2010

I like how everyone in the states is so ready to jump on someone when the US is short changed. What about the bad calls in the other games? I think everyone needs to get off their high horse and remember that football is one of the last sports that hasn't included cameras at every angle, extra officials, and instant replay. These things happen to everyone (France v Ireland for example). It's part of the game and I think that if more of the population watched professional football outside of US football, they would see that this is actually a fairly regularly occurrence (maybe not with the same thing riding on it, but never the less). I guess in the end, what I am saying is get over it, sh*t happens and they're going to move on to the knockout stage anyway. Personally, with all the tear shed there has been over this in the US, I hope they lose out.

Posted by luda hoe on 06/20/2010

@ Chris
The English have been grinding their axe about the 'Hand of God' for over two decades, the Irish have been whinging about Henry since last October, don't even ask an Italian what he thinks of Totti's red card in 2002 and you can't even afford us two days to moan about the worst call of this tournament so far? Speaking of high horses...

Posted by mike on 06/20/2010

@chris

since when does football not have cameras at every angle? especially when you see replays from every angle including aerial views? it just doesnt have an effect on the game per se...and uefa has been using extra officials in the europa league and will next year in the champions league...

and just because these incidents are regular doesnt mean that efforts shouldnt be made to prevent them from happening...with the advent of nonstop coverage and nearly every professional football match on tv the game has changed, and people will know who really won a game or not...shouldnt efforts be made to ensure that something everyone knows is the outcome actually be the outcome?

Posted by barnaby jones on 06/20/2010

You're right, Chris. As Americans, we should be even more upset about the 2 yellow cards Klose received against Serbia. My, what self-centered people we are.

I actually agree with your point, and yes, this sort of thing has been happening to the REAL footballing nations long before we even coined the 4-letter word 'Soccer'. I guess we should be grateful that we're finally worthy enough to be short-changed on the world stage (oh wait, that happened in 2002, another handball-that-wasn't situation like Ireland-France). Make up your mind: do you want to ridicule us because we don't care enough about football, or lecture us because we're not caring in the right way?

In the end, I think we should get over it, and be glad we still control our own fate. Luda, keep up the good work. I really enjoy these pieces of yours. Btw, who do you like to start up top with Jozy?

Posted by Sebastijan Pogorevc on 06/20/2010

It's true that the goal was wrongly disallowed; no one on the world knows why exactly and what the hell was the referee thinking. But still, a draw is a fair result! Slovenia were better in the first half and USA in the second. In the end, if you look at the performances in the whole match, you'll see that 2 - 2 was no more than Slovenia deserved!

Posted by Dave O. on 06/20/2010

@chris

REVEAL YOURSELF! who do YOU support? you're surely b%$#ing about some result at some point in the past of your team. To add to the list, I've heard countless Germans born long after 1966 sing the refrain "...und das war doch kein Tor" about the final (which the smug English conveniently seem to have forgotten). Point is, you're waxing self-righteous about measured self pity on our part a mere day and a half later. Of course we were complaining. We were fooked. Look around, I'm sure there's some more legitimate ways for you to wax intellectual about your anti-American inferiority complex.

Posted by Steve on 06/20/2010

@chris
C'mon Chris. England fans whine about their team incessantly. If that had happened to England we would never hear the end of it in the UK. Poor Robert Green. At the end of the day, America has to win against Algeria and they go through. That is what they wll be focused on.

Posted by Matt on 06/20/2010

Great article,

Posted by Alex on 06/20/2010

Again @ Chris,

The traditionalist political figures who are preeminently concerned with ensuring that football doesn't modernize are nothing more than nattering nabobs of negativism (to quote Spiro Agnew's famous phrase). The reluctance to use instant replay, goal-line technology, or to increase the number of referees (on the pitch - those two dudes on the endline don't do anything, Mr. Platini)is sheer mindless conservatism. Abuse of technology should be avoided (hence the term 'crackberry') but good use of technology is not to be blindly disregarded.

Luda, thanks for your wonderful blogging from South Africa. I'm a bit disconnected from the American spirit (in Switzerland) and it's nice to have a place to go to feel some communal emotating.

Posted by luda hoe on 06/20/2010

@ barnaby:
I'd go with dempsey in an advanced midfield role and holden in the wide position that "deuce" usually occupies. We saw how deep Rooney had to retreat to receive the ball, why not have someone more naturally adept at receiving the ball in those positions play in the hole and advance Altidore to always hang on the shoulder of the back line.

@ Seb:
Article wasn't suggesting that Slovenia didn't deserve anything—they played very well in the first half. What happened to them is so often what happens to teams that sit against the Americans though: overrun physically and surprised that just because we aren't delicate in the midfield we can still create chances. You don't have to be Dutch or Spanish to cut apart teams; you can simply outwork, out hustle and out physical teams... basically create your own luck. 2-2 was fair on the whole; what happened in the box was not, no matter how you look at it.

Posted by Dean Strauss, NC on 06/21/2010

Early 2010:
Barack Obama makes it known that if team USA advances to the knockout round, he will visit South Africa to cheer on the Yanks.

In response:
South African World Cup officials slip up and admit that the security problems imposed by a possible US presidential visit would overrun their capabilities. They describe a US run as their "nightmare scenario."

Now we've got a perfectly beautiful Edu goal chalked off.

I'm not saying, but I'm just saying.

Posted by Billy Blagg on 06/21/2010

Excellent review Luda. Give the bloke a break too. He's every right to complain about the appalling decision to disallow a perfectly good goal. Let's not forget you will never, anywhere find a piece of footage or a photo showing the ball not crossing the line in '66 because none exist - the reason why it will always be a goal - but with umpteen angles and slow-mo of the US effort I think a bit of a gripe is understandable.

For the record, my whinging is reserved for Sol Campbell's disallowed headed goal against Argentina in 1998. Saw it last night again on TV and still can't see any pushing that wouldn't disallow about 98% of all goals if applied 'fairly'. At least, Maradona was smart with his jump. I remember watching it without the benefit of replays at the time and not seeing anything wrong with it.

Posted by Sean on 06/21/2010

I say bring in the cameras and stop with the crap that these referees are dishing out. They are wrong and everyone sees that. They make mistakes that cost some of these small countries everything. Ivory Coast tied Brazil, from the cameras point of view but that is not the end result by one mans judgement. How more wrong can you get ????? Why don't we just give it to Brazil each year so nobody else needs to show up. This is the modern age. Bring this sport up to the 21st Century. This is not 1950. FIFA you will lose soccer fans from around the world if you sit back on your collective asses and do nothing.

Posted by Almost a Bears Fan on 06/21/2010

Great commentary by all. I agree it is time to bring 21st century technology into the picture, at least in an event of the magnitude of the World Cup. Very good point by Sean that the little countries that play their hearts out get screwed for political reasons when they play the big names. Time to make these refs accountable so everyone can stop the whining. I know bad calls are "part of the game" but this is getting ridiculous. There seems to be a crucial bad call in almost every game. Man up and get it right for the sake of all. Then we can just gripe about the coaches and players and not the refs...

Posted by Darb on 06/23/2010

I am tired of..
1. People saying that the US did not deserve to win the game because of the way they played the 1st half. US scored 3 great goals. Slovenia scored 2 great goals. US deserves to win.
2. People comparing it to Henry's handball in the box. I can sympathize with officials that miss handballs or call fouls because of another player's good acting. But to call a foul and and negate a game winner when there is absolutely no evidence is inexcusable.
3. People saying "that is how football is!" Why does football have to be like this?
4. hearing complaints about the ball. How about they play with a ball that most kids in Africa play with. A wad of plastic bags tied with grass or string.

Yes, the other bad calls sucked too! But all had a hint of supporting evidence and none influenced the outcome in such a dramatic and puzzling way. I am going to complain about that call until the US when the World Cup, even if it takes 8 or 12 more years.

Posted by McOLU on 07/03/2010

Can anyone enlighten me why there were too many yellow cards at this year's World Cup in South Africa? I personally believe that there are too many GUNS at this year's Semi-Finals : Germany-Uruguay-Netherlands-Spain. Please comment, and
remember that laughter is the best THERAPY.

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Luda Hoe will literally be following the beautiful game to South Africa. You can read more on his thoughts and follow his African adventure at LoveSoccer-WillTravel.com.

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