World Cup South Africa 2010, Part Four.

I watched this morning’s US-Algeria game at O’Brothers with a buddy. ‘Twasn’t the best game of the Cup so far, but it was certainly the most tense. As that second half dragged on, and as our guys kept missing shot after shot, I thought I’d have to start this entry with something along the lines of “At least we didn’t lose any games.”

In spite of leaving Onyewu on the bench, the central defense once again started soft. Our backs let the Algerians behind them repeatedly, and the Algerians put a shot off our crossbar in the sixth minute. Then our guys got their composure–nice of them to do it without being scored on first–and put together attack after attack after attack.

I think Findley’s suspension was a blessing in disguise, because Gomez and Altidore seemed to be a good combination up front. But I look at someone as big and as fast as Altidore and I wonder if we couldn’t make better use of him as the big target in a 4-2-3-1, rather than alongside a smaller forward in a standard 4-4-2.

Looks like we were robbed of a goal again. Replay showed that Clint Dempsey (America’s most valuable player these last two World Cups, in my humble but probably correct opinion) was onside when he put the ball in the net about twenty minutes in. I’m pretty certain that “watching our guys get eliminated because legitimate goals were disallowed in back-to-back games” would make for interesting water-cooler talk, but wouldn’t do much to boost American interest in soccer.

And then England went up one on Slovenia in the other Group C match. And if the scores ended as they were, England and Slovenia would advance. And shot after shot after shot went over, or wide, or got blocked. And then the England-Slovenia match ended, meaning we only had a few minutes of injury time left to score.

And then came that final 4-on-2 break, and Donovan’s feed to Altidore, and Altidore’s cross to Dempsey, and Dempsey’s shot, and Donovan slotting the rebound home.

The bar went nuts. People leapt from their seats, spilling beer, spraying beer, knocking over stools, crushing little kids whose parents had been stupid enough to bring them there, screaming “U-S-A! U-S-A!” (My own reaction was delayed about two seconds because I’d been conditioned to expect a shanked shot after the previous 90 minutes.) It was beautiful.

Thank God we won Group C, because now we get to play Ghana instead of Germany in the Round of 16. We have a chance to avenge our 2006 loss to Ghana, which eliminated us. If we get past Ghana, then we face either Uruguay or South Korea in the quarterfinals. That’s a hell of a lot better route than second-place England faces: if they beat Germany, then they face the Argentina-Mexico winner.

Argentina still looks good. When your second-stringers beat the tar out of Greece, who was desperate to win, you’re having a very good Cup. Brazil demolished the Ivory Coast, have already qualified for the next round, and hopefully will shrug off Kaka’s ridiculous red-card and dispatch Portugal. I think it’s a shame that Argentina and Brazil are in the same half of the bracket because they can’t meet in the final. [Note: I have no idea what I was thinking when I wrote the previous sentence. They both won their groups and are on opposite sides of the bracket. An ARG:BRA final is a possibility.]

Spain found its footing and will probably put on a show against Chile before choking in the elimination rounds. France’s flameout was utterly spectacular, right down to having only ten men pose for the pre-game picture and the coach refuse to shake hands after the game. I only wish South Africa had beaten them badly enough to advance to the next round–but then, that would have been at Mexico’s expense, and I think Mexico’s been decent this year.

Italy… Italy. I don’t know what to say. Assuming the US doesn’t win the whole thing, I want to see Italy repeat as champions. And if you told me that after two games they’d have two ties, I wouldn’t have been surprised, because the Azzurri always start slow. But for Christ’s sake, please stop the diving and the flopping and the acting and the diving. It’s embarrassing. It’s shameful. Just put the f@#$&*g ball in the back of the net. Please bury Slovakia tomorrow and do it without the nonsense.

[Updated 12:02 PM, June 24:] Italy, you deserved worse. I can’t believe how badly Cannavaro got suckered on that third goal. I can’t believe you waited until the last 20 minutes to start playing with any sort of intensity. How did you manage to get only two points out of that group?

Clean house. New coach, new squad, find the next Buffon, find the next Pirlo, use more Quagliarella, and bring some offense next time. Good Lord.