Match Day 3 and 4- Cheeky, cheeky Yanks...
To say I am a happy boy today is an understatement. Early this morning, myself and a group of friends traveled over to a local expat pub to watch the England v. USA game. The crowd was largely American, but the Brits had plenty of representation. The first thing I feel pressed to mention is that USA soccer fans are woefully lacking in songs for the team. Now, this may not be the case if you are a member of Sam's Army (official team USA fan group), but regular Americans abroad come equipped with a standard USA chant and not much else. We managed a 1950 chant, but that and a stirring rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, was our best level of response. Honestly it doesn't take much to make a good football song. Really just take a tune and shoehorn repetition of the name of the club or country that you are supporting around it.
The banter between both sides was fairly good natured on the whole. One rather unfortunate Brit sitting directly behind me decided that every single English touch of the ball was "brilliant" or "correct", and the USA was strictly "school boy". Our obnoxious spectator even felt the need to mock Tim Howard after he found himself impaled on Emile Heskey's spikes. In the fervor of the US goal, I stood up like a shock of lightning sending my chair backwards and directly into the unsuspecting heckler's shoulder. I turned around to express a polite amount of apology and regret towards my exuberant accident, but karmically he had it coming. I must stress this person was the exception rather than the rule as both sides were well behaved.
Tensions grew a bit as the game wore on and Tim Howard and the US back line were pressed into service time and again. By the time the game ended and the bar let out, the sun was rising on the next day and we all strolled bleary-eyed into the Shanghai morning.
The game itself was an exercise in stress management. England scoring in the first 4 minutes left the mostly American crowd stunned and silent. The English fans have a sense of entitlement towards their team and rightly so. Their country invented the modern game and so they had a swagger that Americans have little response for given the US's still growing international portfolio. Rythmic taunts of "you're not singing anymore" echoed the patio, as we held our hands on our chins waiting for the other shoe to drop. Steven Gerrard's goal for the English had everyone thinking that, this would indeed by the year for the Three Lions to rise again.
The the US team settled down and began to right the ship on defense thanks to the stewardship of Steve Cherundolo, Jay Demerit, and Tim (none shall pass) Howard. You probably didn't hear Demerit's name very much, but that is because you didn't hear Wayne Rooney's name much and that was the point. Rooney wasn't much of a factor in the game until the second half. That was due largely to Demerit cutting off Rooney as an option. As the game drew to a close and the US drew in amongst themselves, I dreaded the worst. Teams focused on defending for a result often have the tables turned. The US did a great job of counter attacking though, and nearly broke the game open with Jozey Altidore's blistering run past John Terry in the waning minutes of the game. It seemed like England would never stop storming the US box though, and the final whistle was huge relief.
Say what you will about the US goal, it went in, and secured what may very well be a necessary point needed to escape this group. I don't envy Robert Green, the English Goalkeeper, for the torrent of unbridled anger sure to be lobbed his way as the result of his poor handling of Clint Dempsey's shot. People have already speculated that the new ball being used had some part to play, but frankly I just don't see it. Green is still human, played well for the most part and does not deserve to be raked over the coals over the result of a football game. I'm a Cubs fan, I know a thing or two about not letting a sport get in the way of living your life.
I've gone on a bit more than planned, so I'll leave my thoughts on this game with a brief conclusion. England is still incredibly dangerous. They will get out of the group stage, but they need to address some lineup issues that reared their ugly head in the first half. The US played well and are right to be happy with the point, but to a man they know they could have won. The next step is to win and win big in their last two games to try and secure the top spot in the group and hopefully avoid a second round match-up with Germany. First things first, a match against current Group C leaders Slovenia.
Previews/postviews- At the time I'm writing this post, Algeria and Slovenia have already finished their match and Slovenia came out with the full three points after getting a late score on a 10 man Algerian squad. I caught only bits and pieces of this game so I have nothing to offer until after seeing a possible replay tomorrow. I can tell you that in the World Cup, you take any match lightly at your peril. England and the US are on notice and are looking up at Slovenia.
Serbia v. Ghana- On the TV as I type. I wish I had more to say about this one, but sleep deprivation prevented any kind of deeper research or thought today.
Germany v. Australia- I'm really curious to see what Germany looks like in this one. They always step up strongly on the biggest stage and I don't expect any less from them this time. Missing captain Michael Ballack is a huge blow but not one that keeps them from taking this group fairly easily. Australia still finds themselves in the "happy to be there" phase of their World Cup infancy. Please don't take this to mean I am dismissive of the Roos. I am taking them quite seriously as they swept through their qualifying with great ease and look like a much improved side. I place them on the level the US was at between the 98 and 2002 World Cups. Good enough to dominate their region, but maybe not good enough to make a serious impact in the tournament. That being said I still think Australia will join Germany in the second round.