Assorted observations on Team USA! USA! USA!’s big win

Just a very quick rambling post, too big for Twitter but shorter than my usual manifestos.  Anyway…

— There was a lot of discussion about the mistakenly disallowed goal by Clint Dempsey in the first half, but I think another, albeit meaningless, error was made at the end of the game by match referee Frank De Bleeckere.  After calling a foul in the box on Algeria, he was subjected to some in-your-face screaming by Hassan Yebda, who with his blond mohawk and perpetually angry facial expression is almost a caricature of your prototypical soccer villain.  Yebda was soon joined by dark-haired teammate Rafik Halliche, who also started yelling at the official.

Algerian captain Anther Yahia came over to shoo away the antagonists, but by that time De Bleeckere had turned away. When he turned around holding a yellow card, the player standing in front of  him was Yahia, who like Halliche has dark hair.  Other than that, they don’t really look alike, but I think De Bleeckere got confused and showed Yahia (who was acting as a peacemaker) a card that was intended for Halliche.  Yahia had already been booked earlier in the match, so a second yellow card for him resulted in a red, and being sent off.

Not that it mattered much whether De Bleeckere got that right or not, as Algeria was toast by then.

— Raid M’Bolhi was excellent in goal for the Algerians.  M’Bolhi also started against England, and kept a clean sheet (admittedly, a lot of keepers could have kept a clean sheet against the English in that game).  I have to wonder why he wasn’t the starter against Slovenia, a game lost by Algeria on a goalkeeping error.

Algeria could have had a very different tournament if it had not lost that opening game.

— Jozy Altidore played very well, a near-complete performance, and one maintained for the entire game.  Alexi Lalas was correct to laud Altidore’s effort during ESPN’s post-game show.  The only thing Altidore did wrong, it seemed, was miss that great opportunity for goal in the first half when the net was near-empty, and he then proceeded to kick a ball that would have been good for an extra point in the NFL.

The thing is, though…he’s a striker.  Ultimately, his job is to score goals, or set up other people for goals.  He’s got to finish when given the opportunity.  All the other stuff he did was great, but what if the U.S. doesn’t get that last-minute fast break?

Of course, he also fed the cross that ultimately led to Landon Donovan’s game-winner, so he got the job done at the end.  I’m just ready to see him break out in a big game and bag a goal or two.  The team is going to need Altidore to score if it hopes to advance further in the tournament.

— Speaking of Donovan…dude.  There’s no crying in soccer.

Besides, you’ve got work to do.  Get a good night’s sleep and then start preparing for Ghana.  We’re greedy in this country; the round of 16 is nice, but we’re thinking semifinals now.  Have you seen the bracket?  One of these countries is going to be in the semis:  USA! USA! USA!, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea.  Can you say Cinderella?

England’s reward for finishing second in Group C is a second-round matchup with Germany, and if Wayne Rooney and company get past the Germans, then they get the winner of Argentina-Mexico.  That’s a brutal draw (although amazingly, it may wind up not being the most brutal — there is a chance of a quartile featuring Spain, Brazil, Italy, and the Netherlands).

— In the three group games, Bob Bradley has used 18 of the 20 field players on his roster.  The only two not to see action so far are defenders Clarence Goodson and Jonathan Spector.

You could have made some serious cash if you had put money down on the odds of Jonathan Bornstein, Edson Buddle, and DaMarcus Beasley playing in a must-win World Cup match (with Bornstein starting!), and the U.S. winning said match.

— From watching two of the matches Ghana has played so far, it appears to me that the Ghanians are a hard-working, athletic side that has trouble finishing.  Sound familiar?

— Ian Darke is now everyone’s favorite cheerleading-for-USA! USA! USA! English announcer.  No, seriously, he’s great.  He also gets bonus points for keeping John Harkes quiet during the critical moments just before and after Donovan’s goal.

Darke has also been doing this for a while.  I was watching the excellent ESPN documentary The Two Escobars, and recognized his voice in some of the clips, presumably working for ITV or the BBC.  ABC’s lead announcer for the 1994 World Cup?  Roger Twibell.

Yes, soccer has moved up in this country since then.  It can make another step up in the public consciousness if the U.S. can pull off another win on Saturday.

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