World Cup Daily: Germany falters, England limp, U.S. remarkable
After a high-flying start, Germany was brough down to earth
Refeering controversies ruled the day in both the U.S. and German games
The U.S. team came back from two goals down to tie Slovenia
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Last weekend the New York Post's headline -- "USA wins 1-1" -- captured the zeitgeist perfectly: forget the finer mechanics of soccer scoring, rarely can a tie have felt so good. Today the tie with Slovenia was arrived at via a nine-times-out-of-10 moment that went against the U.S., which means the headlines are likely to be a little more sober. But this was another fightback performance to galvanize the American camp nonetheless.
At half time, Bob Bradley's team looked dead and buried. Slovenia had outclassed his men in almost every position, scoring a firecracker of a first goal through Valter Birsa before adding a cooler second through Zlatan Ljubijankic. It was evident that Jose Torres was out of his depth against a fast-moving midfield, while Robbie Findley's pace was doing little to trouble Miso Brecko. Both teams were transformed from their first match outings; this was better news for the Slovenians.
But Bradley took the right decisions at the interval, and key players such as Landon Donovan stepped up. Scoring so early in the second-half gave the U.S. impetus and belief -- a brew that shouldn't be underestimated in this kind of competition. The Slovenia of the first half was only visible in fits and starts, while the U.S. drove forward like a team convinced of its destiny. Michael Bradley's 82nd-minute equaliser even allowed the cries of "USA! USA!" to be heard momentarily above the drone of the vuvuzelas.
Maurice Edu's 86th-minute goal would have capped a quite remarkable afternoon's work, but it wasn't to be. Before the ball was in the net, referee Koman Coulibaly had blown his whistle, witnessing a foul by Edu that even the replays have contrived to hide -- the only infringements clearly visible are those being committed by Slovenian defenders.
But now is the wrong time to hold the inquest. Germany, too, will be left to wonder how differently its meeting with Serbia might have ended without the referee's erroneous intervention. England would love the luxury of blaming the officials, but has only its own drab performance to blame for a goalless draw with Algeria. We've spent the past week moaning about how dull the World Cup is, and now all three results today leave groups C and D wide open. I'm looking forward to the game of musical tables that next week's simultaneous kickoffs promise.
Inevitably, Donovan's name is everywhere this afternoon. And in the second half, he took the game by the scruff of the neck and gave it a good shake. But the U.S. team's second goalscorer, Michael Bradley, was one of the few players who can take credit for his performance on both sides of halftime. While those around him struggled to play their own game with Slovenia dominating possession, Bradley's passing settled instantly into a metronomic rhythm. In the absence of anything like what we were expecting from Jose Torres, he also took responsibility for pushing forward from midfield. His goal wasn't the most complicated you'll ever see, but he was in the right place at the right time.
Given how frequently they find their way in here, perhaps we should rename this section "Goalkeeping nightmare of the day." Donovan's goal to start the U.S.'s comeback against Slovenia was hardly a craftless clogger's punt, but Samir Handanovic ought to have done better with it nonetheless. As Donovan pulls his foot back, the keeper closes his eyes and braces himself for impact like soon-to-be-roadkill faced with an 18-wheeler.
The German-Serbia post-mortem will focus on the referee's performance and the first German penalty miss in normal play since 1974, which means the life that Milos Krasic brought to the Serbian right wing could go largely underappreciated. He was the main supply to center forward Nikola Zigic, and German left back Holger Badstuber was in danger of staining his reputation on several occasions.
One of the most pleasing aspects of the World Cup so far has been the quality of the refereeing -- not perfect, but good enough to have only become a talking point for the right reasons. So who saw today coming? Refereeing Germany v Serbia, Alberto Undiano produced 10 cards, one of which was red, in a game that had all the violence of a girl scouts' cake sale. But even he was trumped by Coulibaly.
Birsa's 13th-minute shot against the U.S. is one of the few (even that might be overstating it) in this tournament to have come from the outside of the area and look destined for the net from the instant it left his boot. It was struck with such ferocity that Tim Howard barely reacted before Slovenia started celebrating.
Deciding to keep faith with Findley didn't go down too well, but Bob Bradley came out of today pretty well, trying Torres and reacting quickly when it didn't work. Both U.S. goals were scored within a few minutes of substitutions. Maybe not rocket science, but certainly more proactive than anyone on the England bench. Fabio Capello refused to abandon his uninspired 4-4-2 formation even with the clock winding down.
"Nice to see your own fans booing you. Thanks for your support" -- a scowling Wayne Rooney shouts into the camera as the crowd shows its appreciation for England's performance against Algeria.
0 -- the number of crosses played by England today that reached their target.
Arjen Robben (hamstring) looks likely to be fit enough to make the bench for the Netherlands, while Denmark coach Morten Olsen is waiting on the fitness of Jon Dahl Tomasson (hamstring), Simon Kjaer (knee), Daniel Jensen (Achilles) and Nicklas Bendtner (not 100% but likely to start nonetheless).
Tomorrow's early kickoff is the Netherlands' meeting with Japan, who will provide more energetic opposition than Denmark did a few days ago. The Japanese have promised to "run the Dutch into the ground" and interrupt the flow of balls from midfield to the Netherlands' forwards. These teams met as recently as September, however, when the Dutch won 3-0. Wesley Sneijder was central in that game, and though his performance against the Danes was somewhat overrated, he's likely to pull the strings again here.
There's an intriguing match up from Group D at 10 a.m. (ET), with Australia taking on Ghana. Australia's performance against Germany was poor, and lacked any attacking strength; things will be worse tomorrow for the absence through suspension of Tim Cahill. Ghana will certainly fancy its chances of a win, but with the group wide open it might be reluctant to risk too much by bombing forwards at every opportunity. The second set of matches has so far avoided too much cageyness, however, so fingers crossed for another entertaining 90 minutes.
Cameroon and Denmark go into their second matches in varying degrees of disarray, depending on the accuracy of reports. Apparently disagreements amongst the Cameroon players have simmered down, but senior players have now picked an argument with coach Paul le Guen, insisting that he puts more experience on the pitch for this game. That could see Alex Song start in place of Joel Matip. The Danes will be encouraged by how poor Cameroon was against Japan, but have problems of their own up front thanks to injuries.