19th FIFA World Cup - South Africa 2010
11 June to 11 July 2010
DAY 13 SCORES (WEDNESDAY/JUNE 23)
- Group C - England 1, Slovenia 0
- Group C - United States 1, Algeria 0
- Group D - Australia 2, Serbia 1
- Group D - Germany 1, Ghana 0
With three more days to go before the knockout stage kicks off, it was time for two more groups to decide their champs and runners-up. Two wide-open groups, each led by a team some expected to be in the thick of the hunt but which few planned on seeing at the head of the pack by this point, were just ninety minutes away from the final decisions...
- Slovenia (1-1-0, 4 pt, 3-2/+1 GD)
- United States (0-2-0, 2 pt, 3-3/+0 GD)
- England (0-2-0, 2 pt, 1-1/+0 GD)
- Algeria (0-1-1, 1 pt, 0-1/-1 GD)
The formula was convoluted, yet there was a seeming simplicity to it all. For all amongst Slovenia, the United States and England, a win would send them through to the next round. Algeria still had an outside chance at advancement -- a win against the Americans coupled with a win by Slovenia would leave both the Yanks and the English out in the cold and the most improbable of group finishes. It's funny to think that, had a couple of goalkeeping gaffes never occurred, the group standings would be radically altered and it would be the Americans clinging to life-support dreams.
The early set of games saw seemingly everyone in the United States tuned into the contest against Algeria. Shades of Koman Coulibaly crept onto the pitch in the 20th minute, when a rebound of Herculez Gomez's shot on goal rebounded to Clint Dempsey. Dempsey struck the ball clean into the net, but the linesman's flag went up in the air for offside. Replay showed that there was no such infraction, but sometimes those are the shakes. Things were all level at halftime...
Over in the other finale, England took a 1-0 lead into the the locker room during the intermission. A beautiful cross from the right flank left James Milner's foot, curling around his defender right into the box. Slovenia's keeper, Samir Handanovic, could only watch as Jermain Defoe beat the offside trap and pounced to corral the pass with his shin guard past and into the net. The goal meant that England were now in position, if the results held in both matches, to claim the top spot in Group C.
Bob Bradley did everything in his power to prevent that outcome, switching around the American lineup to put even more attacking options on the pitch. The second half saw both sides barreling end to end, one chance after another either parried away by goalies or wandering off target as desperation crept in. Algeria by this point knew they were fighting merely for pride, though a two-goal lead at this point would leapfrog them past Slovenia and their current opponents into the second round.
As stoppage time neared, it looked more and more like it was going to be the exclusive employ of the Slovenes, that second spot in Group C. But then, just as it all seemed lost and the Americans would have to swallow the humble pie so many expected when they brashly declared their intentions with Project 2010 over a decade ago, perhaps the greatest talent ever in American soccer answered the rescue call for his country. As four minutes of time were added on, the Yanks had one last-ditch effort to book their passage. And after Tim Howard, the unflappable goalie for the United States, hurled a spectacularly accurate outlet pass to Donovan, things seemed to slow down to a frame-by-frame highlight. The midfielder passed on to Jozy Altidore on the right side, who crossed in to Dempsey. The striker poked it at the keeper, who bobbled the save and coughed up a rebound. Donovan, streaking forward with the play, was right there with the ball at his feet. M'Bohli lunged at the ball, trying to right his wrong, but Landon smacked the winner home.
that goal, which reverberated across an ocean and from sea to shining
sea, claimed for the Americans their first top-spot passage from the
group stage since the inaugural tournament in 1930. England would still
have plenty of reason to celebrate, but now they were forced to hope
that Germany would not win their final match lest the two European
powers get drawn against one another in the Round of 16...
- Ghana (1-1-0, 4 pt, 2-1/+1 GD)
- Germany (1-0-1, 3 pt, 4-1/+3 GD)
- Serbia (1-0-1, 3 pt, 1-1/+0 GD)
- Australia (0-1-1, 1 pt, 1-5/-4 GD)
If you thought the scenarios in Group C were confusing, Group D had even more jumbled paths by which every one of the four teams could still conceivably qualify. Ghana and Germany both needed a win to advance; so too did Serbia, who had defeated Germany but faltered against Ghana in prior matches. And Australia, who had pulled off a point with a draw against the Black Stars, could technically still advance with a win a either a Ghana victory or a blowout German win to rough up the goal differential. A draw, though, and Ghana would guarantee their passage, Australia would be out in the cold and Serbia would have to win to beat out the tiebreaker.
Both matches stayed scoreless through the first 45 minutes, neither of the four sides able to break through and claim as their exclusive domain one of the two qualifying spots. Nothing would shift in the table with this kind of play. So which team woke up in the second half? Germany struck first, young attacking midfielder Mesut Ozil corralling a pass right on the edge of the box. He let the ball bounce a little, down and up and back down toward the earth, striking it on its downward course to belt a screaming riser right past Ghanaian goalie Richard Kingson. It would bee all that Germany would get, and indeed all either side would score. Germany's goal claimed them the top spot in the group... unless Serbia could win by four or more goals.
Alas, the Serbs had a hard enough time merely getting the ball in the back of the net. After halftime, it was the Australians who came out with verve and the will to press toward goal. The efforts paid off when, having returned from his one-game suspension incurred from his red card in the opener against Germany, Tim Cahill met a cross with his head and beat out everyone else to put it behind Vladimir Stojkovic and into the net in the 69th minute. We should've expected it from the 30-year-old -- the Everton midfielder's seven headed goals were tops in the English Premier League this season, so he knows what he's doing when his feet leave the ground around the goal box.
Brett Holman would make it 2-0 less than four minutes later. Collecting the ball in midfield, Holman -- who had come into the game less than ten minutes prior -- ran straight down the middle unimpeded before unleashing a low bouncing grounder from nearly 30m out. The ball squirted through traffic, untouched on its path, rolling with pace past Neuer and inside the left post to double the lead. The Australians were gamely pressing forward at every opportunity, hoping at the same time that Germany had regained the scoring form that saw them defeat the Socceroos 4-0 in the opener.
But Germany did not score more, nor did Ghana get the two goals that would've allowed Australia the more-direct route through to the next round. Instead the Serbs got a consolation goal, Marko Pantelic scoring in the penultimate minute before stoppage time to halve the final scoreline to 2-1. Australia would have to suffer its way back home, knowing it was tied with Ghana yet done in by the lone offensive outburst which the Germans had shown to this point. The result would allow the Africans to play the redemptive role for an entire host continent, backing into the Round of 16 as the second-place finisher on goal differential ahead of the Aussies...
So this weekend we will get to be treated to the matchup of Uruguay against South Korea and the United States facing Ghana on Saturday before Sunday's showdowns -- an all-European clash of Germany and England will preface the Argentina-Mexico standoff to close out the weekend. Stay tuned tomorrow as we discover which teams from Groups E and F make their way into the next four vacant Round of 16 spots...