17 June 2006

WC: Group E: US 1-1 Italy; Ghana 2-0 Czech Rep.

All I asked for today is a performance we could be proud of. And we were given that and more. Time and again, the US were knocked down, but we got up and got on with it.

Goal to Italy? Get up and get on with it.

Our scoring threat, dripping blood? Get up and get on with it.

The heart of our midfield, sent off for a silly challenge? Get up and get on with it.

Our experienced central defender, sent off for another challenge? Get up and get on with it.

The end result was a draw, one point to each team. And in some ways a stalemate was the fair result. But make no mistake, this was a moral victory for the US. Playing a man down for almost the entire half is not an easy prospect. But 9 on 10 is even worse than 10 on 11. There's so much more field to cover for every player. Yet the US looked more likely to score for much of the game, and nearly did until the interpretation of 'active position' did them in. Italy came storming back late, but this time the huge efforts of Kasey Kellar held Allesandrio del Piero at bay.

I'm not going to go on about the refereeing, because there's no point now. But suffice to say that Italy figured out the referee much earlier than the US. The Italians drove hard at the Americans, daring hard tackles, which is fine. They also spent a lot of time clutching ankles, rolling on the turf, and screeching like sick baby birds. Yeah, part of the game -- whatever. Let us know when you get your testicles back, ok? But the US had huevos to spare and dropped everything on the field. It was never going to be pretty, but it was most definitely inspiring. More than anything, I wanted to see a performance that we could be proud of. Thank you, Nats, for giving us that performance.

Ghana 2-0 Czech Republic
Meanwhile, the Black Stars did their part by disassembling the Czechs and throwing the group wide open. The first goal came at 68 seconds and it did to the Czechs what they did to the US on Monday. There were chances, to be sure, but as many went to Ghana. The penalty was a slightly bizarre sequence, with a slooooooow red card followed by an early penalty, yellow card, and a shot off the bar. They did get the final goal, to add to their goal differential tally.

And that could prove crucial as Group E is in a mess. Every team can go on or go home on Thursday. It could be a real zoo, with Italy and the Czechs facing off at the same time as US and Ghana. I fully expect that the situation will change multiple times during the games. But here's how it comes out:

US winsUS/Ghana drawGhana wins
Italy winsItaly, US advanceItaly, Ghana advanceItaly, Ghana advance
Italy/Czechs drawItaly advance. US or Czech Rep advance based on goal diff.Italy advance. Czech Rep or Ghana advance based on goal diff.Ghana and Italy advance.
Czech Rep winsCzech Rep advance; US or Italy advance based on goal diff.Czech Rep advance; Italy or Ghana advance based on goal diff.Czech Rep and Ghana advance.
So the US need to win, no question. The US is currently worst in goal difference at -3, so they would need to score a LOT if they want to make that up -- right now the difference is 4 with Czech Republic and 5 with Italy.

In short: Group E is the real "Group of Death". We will see how this plays out on Thursday. Until then: COME ON YOU YANKS!

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