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Kahn keeps U.S. from further glory

Posted: Friday June 21, 2002 3:07 PM
Updated: Friday June 21, 2002 3:08 PM

By Ridge Mahoney, Soccer America

ULSAN, South Korea -- When presented with a chance to knock off one of the world's powers on the world stage, the United States fell just short.

And it was the Americans whose game was groomed in Germany who squandered the best opportunities yet still played heroically.

Their performances and that of their teammates lacked only the polish of victory, for when measured in spirit and ability and determination, they were equal if not better.

Tony Sanneh and Landon Donovan failed to do what Michael Ballack did, which is score, as Germany escaped, 1-0, to end the Americans' World Cup quest in the quarterfinals.

German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn reaffirmed his status as one of the world's best as he thwarted Donovan twice with critical saves and punched away another well-hit ball from Eddie Lewis.

Sanneh misfired on two late headers as the U.S. pressed a tiring German defense for the equalizer.

A strange goalmouth melee in which a ball bounced off a German defender's arm, but didn't result in a penalty kick, added a bizarre twist to a match steeped in tension and fortitude if not beauty.

"We have to take some of the blame too because we had chances to score, myself included," said Sanneh. "Hats off to them. They made the plays and we didn't."

DaMarcus Beasley's groin strain knocked him out of the starting lineup. Arena injected speed by restoring Frankie Hejduk in place of Josh Wolff. That was the only change from the starters against Mexico.

But Hejduk, who had started three first-round games at left back before sitting out the Mexico game because of a suspension, did not return to the left-back slot.

Nor did Arena revert to the 4-4-2 formation the Americans had used in the first round.

He stuck with the 3-5-2 used against Mexico and put Hejduk wide in midfield.

It was from the right side, as a sub at France '98, that he'd terrorized the German defense and hit a shot off the goalpost.

The United States had success prying apart the German back line in the first half, but getting the ball past Kahn proved far more difficult.

He denied Donovan on several occasions, including a superb save at full stretch on a low bullet aimed for the corner. Kahn also came out to block a Donovan shot after a chip from Reyna had put him free on the left, but Thomas Linke forced Donovan to shoot from a poor angle.

"In a game like this that's the difference," said U.S. coach Bruce Arena. "Give him credit he was outstanding tonight."

The anticipated German threat on set plays manifested itself early as the U.S. defenders clipped and tripped -- or so the referee ruled -- attackers in its defensive third and had to defend numerous free kicks.

"It's amazing how much their team fell to the ground as much as they did tonight given their size," said Arena. "I didn't know we were that strong. That's just an issue of being one of the big boys, you're going to get a few more calls."

One such free kick was whipped into the penalty area by Christian Ziege and Ballack got in behind Sanneh to head the ball off Friedel's right hand from point-blank range.

The U.S. nearly scored four minutes into the second half. Sanneh flicked a corner kick to the far post and Berhalter's shot was deflected onto the arm of Torsten Frings standing on the goal line.

Referee Hugh Dallas whistled for a foul on Berhalter's slide into Kahn. He was not swayed by American protests of a handball or that the ball had crossed the line.

Replays appeared to show the ball was not over the line when it struck Frings' arm -- which was dangling by his side at the moment of impact.

"I don't want to be a sore loser but that was a clear handball and the referee should have given him a red card," said Berhalter, a bastion in the back who won balls in the air and one the ground. "We had many chances, including mine, but we blew it off. I think we played good enough to win."

The U.S. attack ran aground after the incident, and Arena began substituting.

But the Germans dropped back to clog the goalmouth and subs Clint Mathis, Cobi Jones and Earnie Stewart seldom broke through.

Not until the final minutes did the Germans start to wilt, and Sanneh had two chances to tie the score with headers. But on both occasions he missed the target. The second shot, when open at the far post and served a perfect ball by Mathis, missed the post by about a foot.

Sanneh looked up in anguish after the ball hit the side netting. The best U.S. chance had gone wide.

"Obviously we're disappointed now," said Sanneh. "Three months from now we're going to say we had a wonderful ride. I thought we were the better team."

Ridge Mahoney is senior editor at Soccer America magazine.

 
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