June 12, 2010
By Michael Lewis
WHEN A TIE IS A WIN
U.S. stuns England in 1-1 draw in World Cup opener
RUSTENBURG, South Africa - It might not have been a victory, but the U.S. National Team still wound up making international headlines in the most positive way Saturday night.
|Landon Donovan: "we feel like we can beat any team in the world."
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Playing one of the World Cup contenders even and taking advantage of a gift goal, the Americans walked out of Royal Bafokeng Stadium with a stunning 1-1 draw with highly favored England in Group C confrontation before 38,646 enthusiastic fans.
While the game will not be remembered for the U.S.'s earth-shattering and historic 1-0 win over England at the 1950 World Cup, the Americans certainly proved their point to earn a precious point.
The result had to feel more like a win to the Americans, who were the underdogs against an England team that had English Premier League players from top to bottom in the lineup.
"Defensively, we did our job," said former MetroStars goalkeeper Tim Howard, named man of the match for his overall play, seven saves and ability to bounce back from a penalty-area collision with Emile Heskey. "It was backs to the wall. It wasn't pretty."
For the English, it was downright ugly. The tie will be considered an embarrassment and a loss, which will be dissected for days by a demanding media that will vilify the goalkeeper, who will find out it will not be easy being Robert Green. Green gifted the Americans a goal in the 40th minute, a howler for the ages as he allowed a 25-yard shot by Clint Dempsey to go through both his hands.
The Americans gained a lot of respect at last year's FIFA Confederations Cup, finishing a surprising second to five-time world champion Brazil. But there were still doubters as to whether they could do it at the sport's biggest stage.
They proved they could Saturday.
"Anything's possible," midfielder Landon Donovan said. "If we play well and we put the kind of effort in today, we feel like we can beat any team in the world. But we have to bring the effort every time."
There is still much work to be done to call this a successful World Cup. The Americans have a Friday date with Slovenia in Johannesburg -- a win could put them through to the second round -- and a June 23 encounter with Algeria in Pretoria.
Asked if he feared a letdown, Donovan replied, "We've been through this and it helps we are kind of hardened by this. Last year's experience is going to help us a lot. We know what this is all about. We've been through two World Cups where we've had a great game and let down the next game. I know I won't let that happen and I will make sure the team doesn't let it happen."
The pre-game atmosphere was pulsating as the crowd was more partisan for England, although the USA fans, many clad in red, white and blue, certainly were raucous themselves.
There was one big problem. Both of the stadium's video boards, which usually have the running clock, did not work. That brought a old-time, 1950s feel to the match as fans and media alike were forced to use their watches and electronic devices to figure out the time.
The U.S. received a wake-up goal only four minutes into the match. After a throw-in, Heskey managed to get position on central defender Jay DeMerit for the ball in the penalty area and slipped a short pass to an onrushing Steven Gerrard, who beat Ricardo Clark, considered one of the team's best defensive midfielders, and Howard.
Howard, never one to hide his disdain at his defense, called the goal, "frustrating. Pretty annoyed because the marking was a little lax because it was the opening of the game we should be up for it."
The U.S. equalized in the 40th minute. Dempsey took a 25-yard shot with his left foot that surprised Green on the second bounce of a short hop. He got both gloved hands on the ball, but let it trickle into the left side of the net. Green put his head to the ground in embarrassment and amazement as Dempsey and the USA celebrated a 1-1 deadlock.
Dempsey became the second U.S. player to score in two World Cups, joining former teammate Brian McBride, who tallied in the 1998 and 2002 competitions. Dempsey scored at Germany 2006.
"At the last second it moved a little bit," Dempsey said. "These balls move so much. You just hit it on goal, you will have a chance. It's one of those goals where you say, 'Why can't I get one like that?' The ball moves so much."
Green, a surprise starter over the more experienced David James, was devastated, but he said he would bounce back.
"Obviously, a horrendous, a terrible mistake," he said. "I take responsibility. It was my mistake. I've made mistakes in my career and I'm strong enough to bounce back."
So was Howard -- during the match after Heskey drilled him in the ribs in the 29th minute. Howard was on the ground for several minutes as trainer Pierre Barrieu worked on him while backup Marcus Hahnemann warmed up on the sideline.
"It felt like agony," he said. "I Knew Heskey was going to slide in for the ball. He had every right to. Initially, I was in a lot of pain."
At halftime, Howard got a cortisone shot. Howard, who has bruised ribs, will be evaluated Sunday.
In the second half, Howard gave the U.S. a big shot in the arm by denying and frustrating England as he picked up where he left off as the top goalkeeper in the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa.
"If you're up to the challenge, it will bring the best out of you," he said.
Added Donovan: "For him to just get through it and make some big saves was just fantastic. Tim doesn't usually get hurt. When he goes down, there's something wrong. I wasn't sure he would be able to keep coming. He's a gamer and he kept going."
But it was far from a one-man show. The backline of Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, DeMerit and Steve Cherundolo had their moments. In play remeniscent of the Confederations Cup, they threw their bodies around, blocking passes and shots from Wayne Rooney and company when the desperate English were trying for the winning goal during the final 20 minutes.
Onyewu's performance was particularly encouraging because he hadn't played a full 90 minutes during the warm-up matches.
"Just the part of being back, heís a good competitor," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "I think the longer the game went on the more comfortable he felt, and thatís important to us.Ē