USA 1-0 Algeria
England 1-0 Slovenia
1. USA 5 Points +1, 4 Goals Scored
2. England 5 Points +1, 2 Goals Scored
3. Slovenia 4 Points +0
4. Algeria 1 Point -2
My Prediction For Qualification: England and USA
Landon Donovan saved his greatest moment for his country. Donovan’s development into the best player in the history of United States soccer has seen him serve as both the poster boy and whipping boy for the American game; his inability to break through in Germany with either Bayer Leverkusen (where he signed as a 17 year old in 1999) or Bayern Munich (where he had a trial run in 2008) coupled with the relative ease of his early years in Major League Soccer (first with the San Jose Earthquakes and then with the LA Galaxy) has led to real division among fans of Team USA. Was it that Donovan lacked the heart and ambition to play in the world’s toughest leagues, preferring to dominate in a sub-standard MLS? Or was it that MLS was the perfect place for him to shine, allowing him to remain the face of U.S. Soccer and avoiding the challenge to earn playing time in snobbish European Leagues that don’t seem to respect U.S. players? No matter what anyone has said about him, from the Golden Boy labels to derisive cries of “Landycakes,” from being the future of the game in this country to being a veteran leader on the national team, Donovan has put his head down and played ball, never rising to the bait and always, always letting his game do the talking. I have to admit a rocky relationship with Donovan as a player; when he has shone, he has been an amazing symbol of the spirit of Team USA. He is our all-time leading scorer and the player who has led this team to some great heights. But when he has struggled, he has gone missing in matches, not able to make a meaningful impact; he has been invisible, an enigma, and we questioned his heart and desire.
Today, Landon Donovan erased all of that with what will be remembered as one of the greatest goals in the history of United States soccer. His goal against Algeria in the 91st minute, his 44th for his country and the match winner in a do or die game, eviscerated decades of frustration for USA supporters. This goal, which Donovan both launched and scored, coupled with his first goal in the match against Slovenia, was pure Donovan; speed, heart, determination and an unmistakable finish. Landon Donovan has arrived; he is no longer potential, he is no longer the future, his heart can never be questioned again. Landon Donovan is, quite simply, the best player the United States has ever produced.
Redemption (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
And because of him, Team USA walk out winners, on top of of Group C after a dominant performance against Algeria that should have seen the USA win by a much more comfortable margin. The match did not start off well, again; in the 6th minute, Jay DeMerit whiffed on a bouncing clearance and the ball fell to Algerian striker Rafik Djebbour, who one timed the ball onto the crossbar and back into play. It was a heartstopping start, but the USA recovered nicely and were dangerous throughout the match. How dangerous? Hercules Gomez, Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle, Benny Feilhaber and Michael Bradley all had their chances, each of them good enough to score on another day, and yet none of them found the net. And while the USA pressed, it was Clint Dempsey who was the real threat all day long. After Gomez saw a shot well saved by Algerian keeper Rais M’Bolhi, the ball returned to Gomez, who drilled a low cross to an unmarked Dempsey at the far post and the midfielder tapped in an easy goal; but this being the USA, something had to be wrong; the linesman saw Dempsey as being offside. Replays showed him onside; the goal should have stood. It was another wrong decision by the officials, another deserving goal taken away from the USA, another hurdle for this team to overcome and the decision would loom large over the drama that was to unfold as the US struggled to find a goal. In the second half, Dempsey broke free in the Algerian box and lashed a ball inside the right hand post only to see the ball carom back to him; his off-balance left footed attempt on the rebound went over the bar.
If frustration and despair were coursing through the veins of US supporters, the team itself seemed to be willing a goal to happen, pushing, pressing, doing everything in their power to win this match and win the Group; Bob Bradley starting bringing on fresh attackers in waves, with DaMarcus Beasley, Benny Feilhaber and Edson Buddle all brought on in the second half as the team pinned its ears back and went for it. And Algeria stood their ground, shaky the entire time, almost in disbelief that they hadn’t conceded. And that’s how it might have ended except, after Tim Howard grabbed soft header on his goal line in the 91st minute, he decided to try and make something, anything happen; he threw a brilliant ball to Landon Donovan and then, somehow, magic…
Donovan Writes His Name In The Book
What a match, what a Tournament for the USA, what a great, great goal from Donovan. More than that, it took my breath away, made my knees buckle and brought tears to my eyes; after 91 minutes of pure frustration, after decades of hearing how United States Soccer is a second class citizen from loudmouths home and abroad, Donovan provided a miracle. What a great moment for the player to see that ball sitting there, six yards out, the fate of the nation at your feet, all of your your hopes and dreams, all of the hard work that led you to this moment in time, the moment that every player waits a lifetime to see, the moment Donovan has been training for since he was a kid, there it is–and you bury it. Landon Donovan, can you ever forgive us?
Best. Goal. Ever
In the other match in Group C, England played a much brighter brand of attacking football to walk out 1-0 winners against Slovenia, albeit in much less dramatic fashion; a beautiful James Milner cross to the middle of the box found Jermain Defoe, who bundled it in off of his shin. That was all England would need, but they certainly had their chances, including Frank Lampard missing an open net to find the cheap seats behind the goal instead (same as it ever was for Lampard), Wayne Rooney almost getting off his duck, driving a shot and forcing a great touch save from Slovenian keeper Samir Handanovic, who tipped the ball off the post, and another good chance at the top of the box for Steven Gerrard, who tries to place the ball inside the post instead of driving it, allowing Handanovic to save again, before Defoe got another chance but sliced his high booted ball wide of the post. Even
chastened school-boy centerback John Terry had a fine chance on a corner, but his header was well saved.
Defoe Wins It (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
England were all smiles in the end and Slovenia had to feel good; a USA draw against Algeria seemed on the cards, which would have put Slovenia into the knockout rounds, but Donovan’s goal knocked out the Slovenians, sweet justice for Maurice Edu’s disallowed game winner, and won the Group for the USA, putting England as runner up based on the second tie-breaker; since the two teams were level on points and level on goal difference (+1 for each), it was down to goals scored, where the US won the group 4 goals to 2.
Germany 1-0 Ghana
Australia 2-1 Serbia
1. Germany 6 Points +4
2. Ghana 4 Points +0
3. Australia 4 Points -3
4. Serbia 3 Points -1
My Prediction For Qualification: Germany and Serbia
Group D was settled in less dramatic, although equally interesting fashion as highly favored Serbia took on Australia in Nelspruit while Germany battled Ghana in Johannesburg. With Ghana only needing a draw to advance and Germany looking to win to guarantee their place in the knock-out rounds, the match took on a tentative tone from the outset. Ghana played several players behind the ball, always looking to counter attack with their quick striker and on-field leader Asamoah Gyan and for a while, they went toe-to-toe with Germany, having a few chances and disrupting the German attack by playing nine men deep. It took a moment of individual brilliance to decide it; in the 60th minute, Mesut Özil, who this writer picked as one of the breakout players to watch in this Tournament, volleyed home a brilliant strike from the top of the box and put Germany up 1-0 and the team never really looked back from there, controlling the midfield and only facing a few dangerous chances from a young, fast and otherwise dangerous Ghana team.
Özil Settles It
After setting the world on fire in their 4-0 opening match, Germany have looked less dominant, playing down a man in a loss to Serbia and playing a conservative match against Ghana. With Klose making his return in the next round, and more on that in a minute, Germany need to reclaim their early form if they hope to make noise in the knockout rounds. That said, they’re Germany and he who doubts them will always be punished by Der Mannschaft.
With Germany winning 1-0, Serbia and Australia had it all to play for; Australia were hoping to score goals and for Germany to do the same, Serbia were hoping to win and secure their own fate. Neither happened, with two goals in the final 21 minutes, Australia walk out of the World Cup 2-1 winners over highly favored Serbia. The end of the match was breathless stuff; After Tim Cahill’s brilliant header (what else? The man is one of the best headers of the ball in the game… and only 5’10”!) put Australia up 1-0, Serbia began pressing hard for an equalizer, only to be caught out on the break and see Brett Holman score his second goal of the Tournament on a bomb of a strike from 30 yards out. Up 2-0, Australia battled mightily knowing that a third goal (and perhaps another from Germany) would see them overcome a 4 goal differential with Ghana and move into second place in the Group; but it was not to be, as Mark Schwarzer spilled a Zoran Tosic’s shot into the path of an onrushing Marko Pantelic, who tapped in to bring Serbia within a goal with four minutes plus stoppage time to play. It was a crucial goal; if Serbia could suddenly force a draw and Germany could hold Ghana, Serbia would advance into the next round. A corner saw Nemanja Vidic’s header fly off the hand of Tim Cahill, but nothing was given and the Serbs remaining chances and their World Cup hopes fizzled away, 2-1 at full time and suddenly last place in Group D. And with Australia only winning by one, Ghana becomes the only African team to make it into the knock-out stages thus far, squeaking past Australia on goal differential.
Cahill Celebrates His Opener (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
What It All Means
Group C winner (woo hoo!) USA take on Group D runner-up Ghana on Saturday, June 26th in Rusetnburg.
Group D winner Germany take on Group C runner-up England on Sunday, June 27th in Bloemfontein.
And what that means is HOLY SHIT; two amazing rivalry matches come out of Groups C and D! Let’s take a walk down memory lane, shall we?
USA 1-2 Ghana, World Cup 2006
The USA have some serious unfinished business against Ghana. Take a look at 1:19 of that video, and tell me that is a penalty. Another hose job by an official in a World Cup, and Ghana knocks the USA out in the final game of the Group stage in 2006. I am certain that Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan and Oguchi Onyewu never imagined they’d have another shot at the Black Stars, but here we go; they are a fast, clever and dangerous team and the USA will have a lot to do to avoid Ghana
jobbing them for a penalty winning this match. I can’t wait for this one. The opportunity for revenge only comes along once in a blue moon, and this time, the USA will be ready. The winner of this match gets the winner of South Korea vs Uruguay, and one of those four teams will be a surprise semi-finalist in the World Cup. Can the USA do it? we certainly have the motivation now.
As for England and Germany, well, what can you say? It’s one of the greatest rivalries in world football. Take some time and learn your history. This one will be EPIC.
Up Next: Day Fourteen