If, before the World Cup started, you’d told me that on June 27th the U.S. would be in the same position as England, France, and Italy, I would’ve given a mighty blast on my vuvuzela.
Oh well. At least we aren’t suffering the same torments of national self-loathing as our partners in elimination. We did just about as well as you could have reasonably expected before the games began. It’s true, however, that we had started to dream bigger dreams. The semifinals were in reach. All we had to do was beat Ghana and Uruguay. Not exactly a piece of tres leches, but doable.
Except, of course, that Ghana was the same team that showed us the door in 2006, and on Saturday it did so in a manner that was strikingly similar. In the 22nd minute of the 2006 game, Ghana defender Haminu Draman descended on a timidly dribbling Claudio Reyna like a lion falling upon a lesser animal, took the ball away in a majestic display of power, leaving Reyna crumbled on the ground, and flicked in the first goal. The U.S. came back to equalize, but it was clear that our guys couldn’t match the Ghanaians’ power.
This weekend was déjà vu all over again. The game had scarcely started when Kevin-Prince Boateng yanked (no pun intended) the ball from former Dynamo Ricardo Clark and scored a power goal of his own. (Clark had an unhappy tournament, as he allowed seventh-minute goals in two different games.) And the Black Stars winning goal in overtime came when Asamoah Gyan, looking like a bull running through the streets of Pamplona, fended off the suddenly very puny looking Carlos Bocanegra and smashed one past keeper Tim Howard — who frankly didn’t live up to his pre-tournament hype.
Having watched Ghana tiptoe their way through a losing effort against Germany, I was taken aback by their display of power and aggression against the U.S. I’d like to see how they celebrated over at the Ghana House.
Speaking of Germany, the young Teutons were the revelations of the weekend. After a lifetime of watching World War II movies in which all Germans look like they’re going to grow up to be Erich von Stroheim, it was hard for me to grasp that the young men flying with the greatest of ease through the dazed looking Brits were in fact Deutsches.
Of the European nations who have previously won a World Cup, only Germany seems to be producing exciting young talent. I wonder what the difference is between their approach and that of Italy, France and England?
Like U.S.-Ghana, Mexico-Argentina was a replay of 2006. The script didn’t change much for that pair either. The previous game was something of a classic, decided in overtime by one of the best goals I’ve ever seen (by Maxi Rodriguez). This year’s game got off to a fiery start. The Orange Bar crowd was roaring and slamming tequilas as the teams traded long breakaways and displays of dribbling and one-touch passing.
But, unlike Argentina, Mexico was not able to maneuver the ball in front of the goal, and generally had to settle for long-distance kicks — some of which came very close to going in.
El Tri lost its composure after the refs allowed a goal made by the clearly offside Carlos Tevez to stand, and they never really regained it. This game was a study in the fine line between being a good team and a great one.
Mexico displayed the elements for international success, which I believe will one day come for them, but they still can’t put it all together. Maybe they need a coach like Diego Maradona, who for me is the single best story of the tournament, and the main reason I’m now pulling for Argentina.
Friday’s semifinal between Germany and Argentina (another rematch from 2006) has the makings of a free-flowing classic.
Ghana, in the meantime, will try to muscle Uruguay, who slogged through the rain to defeat a very game and capable South Korea in Saturday’s early game. That was the least interesting match of the weekend, though it did feature a star performance by the young striker Luis Suárez. His second goal, a curling shot that he bent out of the mud and right into the inner half of the far goalpost, was the most purely beautiful play of the tournament so far.