For the team to advance to the knockout round for the first time in 64 years — in only its second appearance after 40 years of not qualifying for the tourney — Team USA needed a fluke goal. Actually, make that (perhaps) the most notorious fluke goal in the history of sports.
At the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. In June of 1994, Colombia’s star defender Andres Escobar intercepted a crossing pass into the penalty box only to deflect it past his own goalie to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead it would never relinquish. Because of that goal, the heavily-favored Colombians were bounced from the tournament that many believed they could win.
Ten days later back home in Medellin, Escobar was murdered when he was shot 12 times allegedly by a gunman hired by disappointed drug lords. Police reports say that after each of the 12 shots hit Escobar, the murderer yelled, “Goal!”
It’s bad enough getting bounced from the World Cup, but to do so with a loss to the United States is like pouring salt into the wound.
Yes, they take football seriously all over the globe and as the marquee sporting event in the world, play in the World cup is scrutinized and deconstructed more fervently than anything. Football is a religion in a lot of countries and followed to a degree that even fans of American football cannot understand.
Now goals in World Cup action are like lightning strikes. Sure, a couple of goals in a game can occur, but they are rare enough that they are celebrated as if they are small miracles. In other words, to give away a goal to the opposition is so devastating to a team’s chances in a match that it can sway the outcome of the tournament. Goals can change lives… or end them.
So when Clint Dempsey’s shot from 18 yards away in the opening match for USA and England in the 2010 World Cup, bounced off the hands of goalie Rob Green and trickled into the net, it didn’t take long to see what was coming. No, Green will live. They take football as seriously as anything in England, but not to the extreme to murder a guy. But unless England regroups and advances far into the tourney, Green’s life will never be the same.
Indeed, goals change lives. They mean that much.
Just a quick peruse through the English newspapers was enough to see what Green is in for. Sure, the Philly and New York sports media is supposed to be tough, often creating heroes and villains with just a few sentences. However, in Philly we have nothing on the London writers who have carved into the English team without mercy. Green, of course, has been the main target with ledes like this one from the Sunday Times, a conservative paper in London owned by the same company as the Wall Street Journal:
To the Boston Tea Party and Belo Horizonte, the Royal Bafokeng Stadium can almost be added. Here was parity that felt a lot like purgatory for Englishmen. England have not begun a World Cup better for 28 years, scoring incisively through their captain, Steven Gerrard, just four minutes in, and yet they have seldom ended a tournament’s opening game feeling worse.
Robert Green, Fabio Capello’s contentious choice of starting goalkeeper, imploded and the myth that England are somehow among the favourites for these finals was exploded. A scrappy, uncomfortable draw against the second-ranked side in Group C may not stop Capello’s men topping it, but it is hard to see them proceeding far in the knockout rounds unless they make giant and sudden improvements.
That story was one of the less incendiary published in the aftermath of the USA-England match. The overwhelming majority of the prose from England’s writers from South Africa cut deeper and sharper, not wasting time in going for the jugular. The tabloid, The Sun, plastered pictures of Green’s “fluff” all over its Sunday editions and buried stories about British Petroleum’s “fluff” into the back pages.
From The Sun:
Indeed, the writer seemed indignant about the team’s captain refusing to pile on a teammate and later in the story labeled Dempsey’s shot on goal, “tame,” with this bit about another error by the British:
“One disastrous spill the Yanks won’t complain about.”
Yes, because the Yanks are a bunch whiners for complaining about the wanton destruction of the planet.
And from The Guardian:
Just as South Africa opened their World Cup with a goal that will be remembered forever, so England, as is their wont, contrived to open theirs with a goalkeeping blunder that will never be forgotten. No sooner had Fabio Capello placed his confidence in Robert Green than his judgment was mocked by the sort of bungle no professional footballer can comfortably watch, an unforced error that allowed the United States back into a game on which England appeared to have a comfortable grip after Steven Gerrard's early goal.
Nowhere was the fact that England did not lose the game mentioned high up in the reports from London. That all seemed beside the point as the knee-jerk reactions rolled in from a misplay that has not affected England’s chances to win the World Cup for the first time since 1966. In fact, England and the United States are still favored to advance to the knock-out rounds if they score a victory against either Algeria or Slovenia, two teams not rated as high as either club.
But football was invented in England. More than Brazil, Italy, Colombia, Ghana, Spain, Germany or South Africa, football is an English game to a degree even greater than football, baseball and basketball are our games. The first modern rules were put together at Cambridge University in 1848 though the game had been played in England since the medieval times as they were first focused on conquering the world and as a gift they gave it football.
With this gift, though, comes a steep price and Green is paying it for all of England.
“Bring it on,” Green said bravely after discussing his misplay with the English press in South Africa. “I can take it.”
Indeed Green will continue to take it until England regains a spot on top of the world. Based on the dispatches from London, that won’t be any time soon.