Friday, July 2, 2010

Mere memories remain

(From the Reporter newspaper website)
By Andrei Greska

Emptiness. That's the only way to describe the feelings North American soccer fans held after last weekend's sad performances by Mexico and the United States at the World Cup. After four years of excitement and anticipation, the curtains have closed for the neighboring nations.

The U.S. was bounced out by Ghana for the second consecutive World Cup, again losing by a score of 2-1. The game this year though was much more contested than that of four years ago. Landon Donovan tied the game on a penalty kick in the second half and sent the game into extra time. However, Ghana scored two minutes into the first overtime. America's achilles heel had shown itself once again. The U.S. allowed goals in the first 15 minutes in three of its four games in South Africa. Down a goal and looking physically spent, the U.S. could not mount a comeback and missed a once in lifetime opportunity to reach the semifinals.

Mexico crashed out in the Round of 16 of the World Cup for the fifth consecutive time, and at the hands of Argentina for the second consecutive time. This match was nothing like the 2006 meeting in Leipzig, Germany, though. The Argentines scored in the 20th minute in a clear offsides position, causing the Mexicans to lose concentration and concede another a few minutes later. Carlos Tevez blasted a third goal at the start of the second half, putting the game out of reach. Mexico's lone bright spot was Javier Hernandez, the Manchester United signee who struck a morale-saving goal in the 70th minute. Mexico was severely outplayed throughout the match and came home without fulfilling it goal of getting to a fifth game.

Both countries will now watch the rest of the World Cup with a tinge of remorse, wishing it was their countries battling for the title. They will only have these memories to tide them over the next two weeks and the next four years:

Landon Donovan scores in stoppage time against Algeria In 20 years, this will still be remembered as the moment in which America cared about soccer. I'm not saying this is the moment which will make America fall in love with the sport, that has been erroneously predicted for the past 30 years. However, there is no denying the joy that America felt when Donovan slotted the ball home to send the Americans into the knockout stages. A quick Youtube search is all the proof you need.

Javier Hernandez scores his first World Cup goal Hernandez, also known as Chicharito which is Spanish for little pea, is Mexico's next great hope. A rising star with club team Chivas de Guadalajara winning the scoring title even though he only played nine of the 16 games, Hernandez was signed by club giants Manchester United. He instantly became the hottest thing since sliced bread in Mexico and was expected to lead his team to glory. Unfortunately, he wasn't given the starting spot in the opening games but he showed his worth scoring a game winning goal against France only 10 minutes after he had come on as a sub. The goal was his first ever in a World Cup and made headlines even in England.

English Goalkeeper Robert Green commits the gaffe of the tournament Down a goal and being completely outmatched, the U.S. was in trouble against the mighty English team. And then lightning struck. In great play by Clint Dempsey, twirling past his defender twice, Dempsey unleashed a dribbler, a very weak shot on goal that all goalies in the world, no matter what age could stop. Except Robert Green. The English keeper fumbled the ball, bouncing it off his chest and into the goal. It was one of the few fortunate breaks the U.S. would receive in the tournament but one that will forever be known as Greene's Gaffe.

Mexico opens the World Cup It's not the greatest memory in the world for Mexican fans. Up against host South Africa, a team only ranked 83rd in the world, Mexico had to come from behind and was lucky to come away with a tie. However, the game as a whole will be remembered for historic purposes. It was only the second time Mexico opened the World Cup and the first time since 1986 when it hosted the tournament. All eyes focused on Johannesburg, where the Bafana Bafana gave El Tri all that they could handle.

Comeback kings This is more than one memory, it is the tournament for the U.S. summed up. The U.S. fell behind in three of four of its games and came from behind to at least tie every single time. They set a new World Cup record coming back from a 2-0 deficit at halftime against Slovenia to tie the game at 2 (and win it, but a glaring decision by the referee invalidated a legitimate goal in the 86th minute). America won admiration from the worldwide press for its never-say-die attitude and its uncanny ability to score goals in closing minutes. The U.S. might have been bounced out, but there is no doubt they left it all out on the field each and every game, and at the end of the day, that's all you can ask for from your team.