Instead, a clutch goal capping a well-worked team move in injury team has sent the U.S. through to the second round, and sent throngs of jubilant soccer fans into ecstasy around the country. It was fitting that the two best American players were at the center of the move—Clint Dempsey, whose first effort was saved, and Landon Donovan, who trailed the play and made the rebound his own, coolly tucking the ball into the net in composed but emphatic fashion.
RICHMOND, VA—The usual cliches about a side "crashing" out of a competition in no way apply to South Africa's exit from this World Cup. Bafana Bafana put together not just a spirited but a technically excellent performance over the first hour of today's match vs. France, taking a two goal lead and very nearly going up 3-0 early in the second half when Katlego Mphela's close range effort hit the post. For a solid half hour, the impossible seemed possible: South Africa might win the match 4-0 and supplant Mexico as Group A's runner-up.
Instead, France got its act together after Thierry Henry, suspected ringleader in the failed French revolt of the last few days, got his chance on the pitch. A counter-attacking goal rolled in by Florent Malouda salvaged a small amount of pride for France and effectively ended South Africa's chances of qualifying.
RICHMOND, VA—Believe it or not, after 11 days of non-stop soccer, one-half of the World Cup is complete. Starting Tuesday, the tournament kicks up a notch with the final day of group play, as nations will begin to exit stage right en masse.
Leading that parade almost certainly will be host nation South Africa. South Africa needs two unlikely events to transpire. First, they need Uruguay to beat Mexico, preferably by two goals. Next, they need to beat France, by at least two and possibly three goals. Ordinarily one would say this was completely impossible. But with the complete disarray in the French camp, maybe it’s not.
RICHMOND, VA—Insipid, lacking belief, out of ideas, toothless, timid. All those words at the moment appear to be the answer to this riddle: what happens when you cross a bunch of English soccer players with Italian "tactical guile"?
Merry old England made a mockery of Henry V, St. George and for that matter Bobby Charlton and Stuart Pearce with a frankly sad display against Algeria, hardly mustering a meaningful strike at goal over the 90 minutes.
But talk about the referees we must. Coulibaly's call against Edu repeated a pattern in which the official time and again called fouls against the attacking team—usually the U.S.—on congested free kick and corner kick situations in the box. Could you have spotted an infraction of the laws by a U.S. player if you did a free frame on the controversial play? Almost certainly. But there were at least two or three more by Slovenian players, including a PK-quality foul on Bradley. The general rule in such situations is that you let grabbing and pushing go unless someone gets knocked over or it somehow directly affects the players on the ball or the keeper.
DURHAM — Ismael Ibarra Esparza grabbed a handcarved, handpainted chair and motioned as if he was going to hurl it out of the window Thursday afternoon as Mexico netted what would be the game winner against France.
Up to then, he was sitting just about as peacefully as one can sit while his country plays in the World Cup, enjoying the match with a half dozen of his painting colleagues who got the afternoon off to come to Torero’s on West Main Street in Durham.
“We just told [our boss] it was like a Duke-Carolina game, and he understood,” said the Durango, Guanajuato, Mexico native.
A 2-0 victory and a $2 cerveza special brought a feeling of euphoria for the dozen fans in attendance there.
“I think it’s the best thing to happen to us,” says Yadany Ruiz Arroyo, one of the waitresses who slipped on green and red jerseys five minutes before the game began.
“Today we are so happy.”
She plans to enjoy carne asada and beer with her family tonight to celebrate.
The crowd at Torero’s, though smaller than Ruiz expected, was raucous throughout. A third-minute Giovani dos Santos strike hit the post, eliciting an “ole, ole, ole, ooooooooo!!!” from the group.
Fans popped up and down as Mexicans neared the goalmouth, shaking their heads as shots were blasted high and wide.
Ibarra, channeling his inner Dave Grohl, beat rapidly on the table during tense moments, rattling hot sauce bottles against their metal basket.
Mexico now only needs a draw against Uruguay to reach to the knockout round of 16, and Ibarra is already hoping he can take a few more afternoons off work.
His passion for his country is perhaps even more important now, as he lives in North Carolina, he says.
“We came here, but we’re still Mexicans,” he says. “No matter where we stay, we still feel proud of Mexico.”
Here in Brasil, the 2014 World Cup Local Organizing Committee (LOC), run by the mind-numbingly corrupt president of the Brasilian Football Federation (CBF), has decided that the Morumbi Stadium in São Paulo will not be used in the 2014 World Cup. The reasons were clear enough for anyone who has ever tried to go to a game there, but the final excuse was that São Paulo F.C. and the city couldn’t find a financing package for a project carrying a price tag that had exploded from an initial estimate of R$136 million to R$630 million. The transportation and tourist infrastructures of São Paulo are in no condition to receive the Shiner Circus, much less the World Cup. The decision to exclude the Morumbi could be a sign that logic is starting to enter the thinking of the 2014 LOC.
Argentina versus South Korea had me up at 7 this morning boiling water for mate and heating up some empanadas for the 8:30 kickoff. Argentina were dominant but Korea were strangely slow and didn’t look to impose themselves on the game at all. This World Cup has been very strange in that regard. There are a few teams that are impossible to play football against. If you try to play attacking football against Spain, Holland, Argentina or Germany, a loss is guaranteed. The best that South Korea could hope for was a draw and they set out their stall to defend like the goal was the 38th parallel. But Ángel Di Maria and Carlos Tévez used the space that Lionel Messi vacated and picked apart the Korean back line.
Probably most of the first round matches will have been forgotten by the end of the tournament — indeed, a good number of them probably have been forgotten already. But one clear trend stands out: the performance of South America's five entries. After the first five days, the record is four wins (one each for Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina), two draws (Uruguay v. France, Paraguay v. Italy), and no defeats.
Brian Fobi, a Yale graduate student based in South Africa, is attending all three U.S. matches, all three Brazil matches, 2 round of 16 ties, 2 quarterfinals and a semifinal. After getting past our immense jealously, we asked Brian to post his thoughts for us.
RUSTENBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — Walking away from the impossibly rustic and comically rural Royal Bafokeng Stadium, I took in the scene and felt a sense of redemption after years of something like shame.
Let me explain. Four years ago, after a long day of watching soccer in a Dusseldorf fan zone, three of my friends and I retreated to a local bar. As with this year, the World Cup had coincided with the NBA Finals, and wanting to catch the action, we asked the bartender to change one of the TVs to the game.
With a wide grin, the bartender said, “Yes, I will do this. (Dirk) Nowitzki … the best player in the NBA!” Choosing to ignore the laughable factual error, we were all pleased that a day of drinking, making friends with locals and soccer would be capped by a 1:30 a.m. game of championship basketball.
But, it was not to be so easy. From the corner came a voice that angrily bellowed, “Basketball is rubbish, mate!”