Trip Start Jun 07, 2010
Trip End Jul 17, 2010

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Flag of South Africa  , Gauteng,
Saturday, June 12, 2010


There is a phrase in sports, "A tie is like kissing your sister."  That is often true, but in soccer in particular a draw is sometimes very sweet indeed.

The United States drew into a pretty balanced group this World Cup, unlike 2006 in Germany, when we were drawn into "the Group of Death" with the Czechs, Ghana and eventual champions Italy.  This time we got England (a solid second-rank team) and much-weaker Slovenia and Algeria.

Our first match was against England.  Going into the game, I was guardedly optimistic.  After all, the US came into this contest 2-0-1 against the Brits in contests that count.  We won the Revolutionary War, tied the War of 1812, and delivered a shocking upset fifty years ago, beating Britain 1-0 during the 1950 World Cup in Uruguay .

Before the match we went out to get proper kit.  I bought US team jerseys for Jack and me, to go along with our macarapas (plastic hardhats cut into soccer shapes, see picture) and red-white-and-blue polyester wigs.  Jack was reluctant to wear his jersey to the game, thinking English football hooligans might beat up a 13-year-old boy for sporting the wrong jersey.  I finally convinced him to buck up and show the colors.

We watched the match at Giles Pub, a local establishment with typical English food (just north of shocking), good beer and lots of big-screen televisions.  The crowd at Giles was half Brit and half American.  Jack need not have worried.  Giles was a hooligan-free zone, and everyone was polite and friendly.  We met a mix of Americans and Brits, including Mike from Chicago, an American photojournalist who retired in Johannesburg.  (Jozie to the locals.)   He loves the lifestyle, the weather and the culture.  He had family from Chicago visiting, all dressed in US colors.

We were mostly through our dinners and well into our second beers when the game began.  The U. S. soccer team has a frightful tendency to get off to bad starts at major tournaments.  This World Cup was no exception.  Only four minutes into the match, midfielder Ricardo Clark let an unmarked Steven Gerrard into the box, where he beat Tim Howard with a quick outside-right strike. It was 1-0 England.  The English fans went wild.  I buried my head in my hands. 

Then a strange thing happened.  The Americans settled down, the defence got organized, and the U. S.  began to build an attack.  The Three Lions still had a bit more of the run of play, but no more than 55/45.  Then I had a sudden inspiration.  I asked Jack for his wig and put it on.  Within minutes, at 40', Clint Dempsey got loose and shot a decent low ball almost directly at English goalkeeper Robert Green.  He bobbled it and we watched as it rolled slowly into the back of the net.  Goal!  A shocking illustration of England's lack of quality at keeper in recent years. 

Yes, it was a cheap goal, but as Gertrude Stein didn't say, "a goal is a goal is a goal."  Both sides had a few decent shots on goal in the second half.  Tim Howard did his Superman imitation, stopped everything and was named Man of the Match.  In the end, Dempsey's strike held up and the U. S. had a vital point out of what looks to be its toughest match.

Our big question after the match:  Is there any outfield player that Fabio Capello would not happily trade for any of the three American goalkeepers?
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