The Bull & Bear had a full house today for the early World Cup matches. Actually, it had two full houses, one English, one American. The big outer Westheimer bar is divided into two main rooms. One was completely given over to England supporters, the other to the Yanks.
Given that there’s not even a door between the two rooms, just a partially separating wall, it’s surprising how little interaction there was between the nations as the two sides played their crucial matches against Slovenia (in England’s case) and Algeria (the U.S.’s) at the same time.
Both the U.S. and England needed a win to advance to the knockout round. Given the pitiless criticism they’ve taken from the media back home, the Brit players may have a needed a positive result just to be allowed back in the country. In any case, they had an easier time of moving on than the U.S. did.
Unlike the Yanks, who needed stoppage time to finally celebrate a goal, England scored in the first half, and the vibe that drifted out of the Brits’ watching area into the anxiety-gripped U.S. supporters’ room was almost mockingly relaxed. By late in the match, as the U.S. missed chance after chance, it seemed that we would not only fail to advance, but that we’d have to exit the Bull & Bear at the same time as the smugly satisfied Brits. I imagined getting a condescending pat on the head as I exited.
But then Landon Donovan scored on a dramatic rebound in the 91st minute, and the U.S. room got to erupt. I was already so bitter about an incorrectly disallowed Clint Dempsey goal (for offsides), and brooding that the fates (the refs, that is) were in league against us, that the happy ending took me by surprise.
But it happened. The U.S. has won its World Cup group stage for the first time in 80 years. In a few days they’ll play the second place finisher from Group D: Germany, Ghana, Australia or Serbia.
It’s hard to overstate how important this win was for the U.S. Before the tournament, Donovan said that the team would be “a failure” if it didn’t advance beyond the group stage. If they had tied a second consecutive game on a dubious (at best) call, the American audience might have gone back into its anti-soccer shell. Instead our homeboys won in good, old Hollywood fashion.
How big was the win? Notorious soccer hater Jim Rome devoted his entire opening segment to the victory — even while continuing to profess his disdain for the game.
From this point, it’s all gravy for the Yanks. They’ve achieved their nation’s expectations, though probably not their own. They’re a determined squad, with a flair for the dramatic. Let’s see what happens.
And now I’m off to the Ghana House restaurant for Ghana v. Germany. How I love the World Cup.