When Landon Donovan finally slammed the Jabulani into the net, 91 minutes after the kickoff, there was one part of me that wondered “Will it count? Will it count?” And not, Alex, because I think there’s been a massive anti-American conspiracy, but simply because the refs in this group stage have been terrible. Contrary to popular prognostication, Koman Coulibaly, according to FIFA's official report, called back Edu’s goal for a foul not by Bocanegra, but by Edu (who didn’t commit a foul); there's a reason FIFA gave Coulibaly a "poor" rating and dropped him for the second round. Similarly, today’s early goal by Dempsey was clearly onsides (the same linesman, for what it’s worth, also made a wrong call against Algeria in the second half). Donovan's goal, then, almost seemed too easy.
But more than anything, there was jubilation. By the 80th minute, too many chances had gone missed and too many different formations had struggled, for me, and most of the fans watching with me to believe that the US would finally find the winner. (Speaking of which, it’s more than a little amusing to hear English fans and pundits over at The Guardian saying “well, you wouldn't be complaining about the refs if you’d put away those chances,” as if the England team knows anything about putting away chances.) The never-say-die attitude, though, won the day again. And now, the USA is through!
Through in fine style too – it’s the first time they’ve topped the group since 1930, and the first time they’ve gotten even a point from the last group stage game. (Few popular histories of the Americans’ otherwise glorious 2002 Cup run linger on the dreadful game against Poland.) I like the USA’s chances against Ghana in the next round – without Michael Essien, the Ghanaian midfield has been at least somewhat weaker than it was four years ago, and Ghana’s preferred strategy of sitting back and frustrating opponents is by now a familiar one to the US, having seen similar strategies from Slovenia and Algeria. If nothing else, Ghana could only draw with a Tim Cahil-less Australia 1-1, while the US beat a full-strength Australia 3-1. Fingers crossed for Saturday, then.
Lastly, hopefully this third round of games has put paid to early predictions that this was going to be a terrible World Cup. What was ignored in the dearth of scoring in the first round of games is that this World Cup has as much parity as any – New Zealand and North Korea (at least against Brazil) have acquitted themselves quite well, and few of the groups have had one team clearly better than the rest. The result is a series of nailbiting final round games, complete with some excellent end-to-end play, and enough goals to keep the fair weather fans happy. And now, as Alex has pointed out, one of South Korea, Uruguay, Ghana, and the USA will have a spot in the semifinals. I don’t think anyone could ask for much more.