June 23, 2010 could well become a date that goes down in U.S. sporting history. Not only did the U.S. spin imminent elimination into a place in the knockout stage with barely any time left on the clock, but it became the first U.S. team to top its World Cup group since 1930. The performance confirmed what we already knew: this team will fight, with every last sinew, to the death. In this regard, it is a deserved group winner. What's more, the leapfrog up to first place in the Group C table means it will avoid the trickier course through the knockout phase -- now destined for England.
When the final whistle blew on England's match with Slovenia, the 1-0 victory it had earned (with a performance of such pace and passion it was hardly recognizable as the England of the past week or so), was enough to put it top of Group C, but within seconds the U.S. nudged it down into second. Fabio Capello's team is trying to concentrate on enjoying its improved form and having avoided a group stage exit, but will probably still have preferred to steal top spot.
Because in Group D, Germany eventually found a way through Ghana to secure a 1-0 win that sets up a last-16 meeting with England on Sunday. Because Australia beat Serbia, Ghana too goes through, to face the U.S. on Saturday. It battled ably against a German side that has struggled to match the awe it inspired against Australia in its first match, but was ultimately undone by a fine strike. The intensity of the encounter diminished once news of Australia's goals trickled through.
Both Ghana and Germany displayed enough vulnerabilities to encourage this weekend's opponents, but the U.S. will certainly be the happier to have entered a quadrant with Ghana, and then either Uruguay or South Korea. England will face old enemy Germany with the prospect of Argentina, if it beats Mexico, on the horizon. The U.S. has a realistic shot at reaching the semifinals in South Africa if it can continue to perform with such relentless energy.
There's been a lot of whooping about
For a $9 million striker with and at 6-foot-7 to boot, Serbia's
Of its 19 shots, only four were on target, so Algeria can hardly be said to have given
Did you know tennis matches could last for three days? The U.S.'
I'm giving you a double whammy today, since I'll be denied entry to the U.S. forever more if I don't at least mention Donovan's
You have to hand it to
"I'm just glad to find the net because this time last week, my World Cup was over" -- a jubilant
5 -- the number of yellow cards players of other teams have been shown after fouling the U.S.'
Italy will still be without
It's the turn of Groups E and F, which means another opportunity for Italy to figure out how to attack without anything like the minaccia (menace) it displayed in the latter stages of the last World Cup. Plus, it could do with a win against Slovakia to guarantee making it through -- though a draw will be enough if Paraguay beats New Zealand, both games are at 10 a.m. ET. The potential return of Pirlo will help. Slovakia, for its part, has promised to attack, but only mustered one shot on target in its last match despite fielding a nominally attacking lineup. Set pieces could be its best hope -- Italy has proved consistently hopeless at defending them.
Paraguay only needs a draw, but a win will see it top the group, so expect the same fast, pressing football that we've seen from it already -- there are no changes planned for the line-up that beat Slovakia. New Zealand isn't planning changes either, but will rely on chances to counter-attack through target man
Denmark and Japan face-off for second place in Group E at 2:30 p.m. ET; if Denmark wins, it will go through, any other result will guarantee Japan goes through. Japan will look to defend first, partly for that reason and partly because its already enjoyed success with an attentive, press-from-the-front approach. Denmark will hope for the best from
Last but not least, Group E leader, the Netherlands, faces Cameroon, which can win little more than pride even if it wins.