Sunday, June 13, 2010

World Cup: England 1, USA 1

This picture of England's goalie, Robert Green, is by Michael Sohn of the AP.  I imagine this will become an iconic image of this year's World Cup (at least for the Brits and Americans).

Yesterday afternoon we watched the USA's first match of this year's World Cup, a much anticipated match-up against England

This was fun! Notwithstanding Chappy's enthusiasm, I haven't watched much soccer since the 2006 Cup, and I have really enjoyed it the past couple of days -- it is truly an artistic sport in a way that sets it apart from American football. I also just love the way the action is ongoing for each 45 minute half; soccer fans must think that American sports' constant stops-and-starts are incredibly annoying.

The Cup began on Friday and the big first-day news was that South Africa (the lowest-ranked team in the field) led Mexico 1-0 for much of that game until Mexico tied it up fairly late in the second half. Mexico's goal was the kind of art I've described above: Rafael Marquez stopped a beautiful cross almost completely stone-cold and then shot it past the charging goalie.

SO: in yesterday's game the USA was a definite underdog and the incoming storyline was whether we could shake off the disappointing 3-loss performance in the 2006 Cup.  Sure enough, we played very well - particularly on defense and particularly Tim Howard in goal; even though England controlled the ball for most of the game and had a lot more chances (they outshot us 16 to 11), we stayed aggressive throughout and almost took the lead when Jozy Altidore broke away at about 65 minutes.

England scored quite early (I think in the 4th or 5th minute), and the play of the game was Clint Dempsey's normal looking shot (at 40 minutes) which was headed straight for the English goalie, Robert Green's, arms. Somehow, though, Green muffed it and it trickled past him into the net. I let out a whoop, as I imagine US fans did everywhere --- and I can only imagine the level of English fans' groaning both at the moment and in the coming days.

The USA's hero from yesterday's game: Tim Howard. The picture is by Bernat Armangue of the AP.

There was even a geo-political overlay to yesterday's game: Nancy Pelosi and other US politicians have been calling on BP to halt payment of its dividends while the oil spill crisis plays out, and this has seriously ticked off the Brits -- many of whom rely on the regular dividend payments as a source of income.  This past week, even David Cameron stepped into the discussion on England's behalf. For me, this political dimension made yesterday's game that much more interesting.

Here's the NYT's Jeffrey Marcus on Robert Green:

“At a younger point in my life, it would have affected me more,” the 30-year-old Green said. “You turn around and pick the ball up out of the back of the net and say, ‘right, that’s happened, let’s move on.’ You don’t really kick yourself for the next 50 years.” England fans might. The soccer-mad English have mixed feelings about the national team. They are alternately confident about its chances to contend for a title and resigned to the idea that they will be let down in the end. For misfortune to occur so early in the tournament is a bad sign. While it was only the first goal conceded, in the first game, it cost England 2 points (the team earned only 1 for the tie) and left it on equal footing with the United States. Algeria and Slovenia, the other two Group C teams, will play Sunday. “We have to get behind Rob Green,” Steven Gerrard [who scored England's goal] said. “He’ll make a really important save for us somewhere down the line.”

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