U.S. undone by late Ronaldo drama
Oh, America. There are no words. All we (the rest of the world, except Portugal) can do is open up our arms and let you hug it out. You were SO close. You did everything right. Well, almost everything. You fought back against one of Europe's supposed powerhouses. You equalised with a well-struck ripsnorter. You took the lead via the groin of Clint Dempsey. And then you learned a very hard lesson about ball retention in the dying moments of five minutes of stoppage time.
There is a view, held by those who foolishly believe the U.S. will never "get" soccer, that Americans are incapable of dealing with the concept of a tied game. This is outdated nonsense, of course, but the good news is you'll probably never have to hear it again. The U.S. and Germany sit three points ahead of Ghana and Portugal with a single game left to play. By the end of this week, this blog predicts that no American from one coast to the other will be unclear on the merits of a well-timed draw.
America "gets" soccer. And if it gets one more point, it will win the right to play at least one more game as well.
Even with that last-minute equaliser, Portugal are in serious trouble and deservedly so. This was another wretched night for Paulo Bento's side, in which the best and the worst of Cristiano Ronaldo were again on display. His soccer skills sideshow early in the first half was impressive but led to nothing. His last-gasp cross to Varela was outstanding and saved the game. Almost everything in between was doomed to failure.
Ronaldo clearly isn't fit. It's to his credit that he continues to run himself into the ground regardless, but his lack of faith in his colleagues and his desire to do it all alone are compromising the team. Then again, perhaps that's a harsh conclusion. After all, this blog doesn't even want to imagine how frustrating its life would be if its success or failure were in the hands of someone such as Nani.
Elsewhere, it was another odd day for Belgium. On results alone, they've certainly lived up to expectations, having booked their place in the next stage after just two games. On performances, however, it's a very different story.
- Gabriele Marcotti: Belgium win, questions remain
Marc Wilmots' side offered up another late victory so lethargic that it's a wonder his players could even be bothered to celebrate. For a team packed with some of the brightest young talent in Europe, they are glacially slow in attack. Striker Romelu Lukaku was so anonymous and ineffectual that he was again withdrawn after an hour. Somewhere in London, Jose Mourinho bounced up and down on his sofa shouting, "See! See! I told you he wasn't that good! Why won't you people listen to me?"
For all that, Belgium were still ever so slightly better than Russia, which is indeed a low bar to vault. Fabio Capello, whose England side stank out the most recent World Cup, really hasn't been able to translate his extraordinary club success to the international game, but he has at least produced two teams so dull that you could use DVDs of their games as a cheap alternative to anesthetic.
Thank goodness then for Algeria and South Korea, who rescued the honour of Group H with an extraordinary tussle. Having come so close to executing a perfect smash and grab on Belgium, few would have expected Algeria to reverse their tactics for South Korea -- least of all the South Koreans.
- John Duerden: Algeria expose soft opponent
Then, having been walloped for three goals before halftime, few would have expected South Korea to hurl themselves back into the game and create more than enough chances to win it -- least of all the Algerians. And yet that's the kind of World Cup we've had here: a tournament in which even the most innocuous game can turn into a six-goal carnival of attacking football. We'll be telling our kids about this tournament one day, and they'll think we're exaggerating.
Algeria now have a great chance to qualify for the next round, where, brilliantly, they could meet Germany and avenge themselves for the Anchluss Scandal of 1982. That's an appropriate scenario, really, given the possible ways that Group G could resolve itself.
The USA's epic clash with Portugal was the last late kickoff of the tournament. Over the next four days, the groups will resolve themselves with simultaneous kickoffs designed to avoid nefarious collusion and skullduggery. We'll certainly see how well that works.
Today though, it's the Netherlands' and Chile's turn to fight for supremacy in Group B while Spain seek to salvage some dignity against Australia, who have plenty. Then it's back to Group A, where hosts Brazil could actually be eliminated, in the unlikely event that they lose to Cameroon while Croatia and Mexico draw. We say "unlikely," but if this World Cup has taught us anything, it's that "unlikely" outcomes aren't actually that unlikely.