World Cup: U.S. Lets England Put Egg on Its Own Face
England coach Fabio Capello was uncertain which goalkeeper to select before his team's opening match of the World Cup Finals against the US.
In the end, he went with Mr. Bean.
Although Benny Hill and Basil Fawlty pushed him all the way in training.
Somehow, physical comedy has always been an English strength.
However, that the U.S. managed to profit from it so heartily was more of a gift than a surprise.
The England soccer team has always enjoyed a special relationship between its face and a covering of yolk.
Many on the Western side of the Atlantic were too overawed by star names and Beckhamesque hype to believe that the U.S. could really give the English a burdensome game.
But the 1-1 draw between the two teams Saturday was highlighted by the expected American organization and English shorts being dropped in public.
When England goalkeeper Robert Green allowed a truly innocuous shot from Clint Dempsey to bounce off the heel of his hand and spin into the net, you, like U.S. keeper Tim Howard after the game, might have been tempted toward sympathy.
These things happen.
But these things happen all the time to England.
You might have thought this was the Red Sox' Bill Buckner, but England has had too many Bucknerish, lucknerish goalkeepers for it to be mere happenstance.
Perhaps you might have missed former England goalkeeper, Paul Robinson, who, a mere four years ago in qualification for the European Championships against Croatia, attempted to hoof a backpass upfield only to miss it entirely and let it roll into the net.
You must surely have somehow failed to notice when another England goalkeeper, Scott Carson, perform a magical feat of missing the softest of shots just a year later. That was against Croatia too.
Green offered after Saturday's game: "You've got to have a concrete head about these things." Unfortunately, the whole of England was rather more focused on his excessively solid hands.
Did the U.S. deserve to win? In some way, yes. Jozy Altidore had a fine chance near the end that was pushed onto a post, when it could have pushed America towards an easier qualification to the next round.
But the U.S. performance was one of fortitude rather than style.
Though Landon Donovan, Robbie Findlay and Dempsey ran so hard they would have made for fine Iditarod hounds, it was center-back Oguchi Onyewu who was often required to intercept before danger became pain.
Onyewu offered to play for his club, AC Milan, without pay for a year in return for its loyalty to him during injury. He might, by the time this World Cup is over, consider renegotiating his generosity.
The U.S. offered a considerable contrast to the English rear.
Tim Howard in the US goal, who, like Green, plays for a relatively nondescript English Premier League team in Everton, regularly placed his body and, most importantly, his hands, in front of every ball that was thrust his way.
It's remarkable how he managed to keep his composure after his defenders allowed England captain Steven Gerrard to saunter forward like a morning jogger in Central Park and slip the ball calmly to his left for an England lead.
Less than five minutes had transpired.
But Howard's face and words offered threats that may have included head-butting and spit-roasting and certainly did not exclude waterboarding.
In truth, both teams still have a very good chance of proceeding to the really difficult games. Those which you really cannot let slip through your fingers.
While the more blindly patriotic English newspapers offered such headlines as "Shock 'n' Draw," the fans are more used to what was really a shlocky draw.
The U.S., which placed itself behind several 8-balls in 2006 (allowing itself to be dismantled 3-0 by the Czech Republic in its first game of the Finals), must feel just slightly elated to have begun with a point against the group's supposedly toughest team.
Landon Donovan was, however, slightly more generous about the England team than he had been last year about how much fun it wasn't to play with England's David Beckham for the Los Angeles Galaxy.
He offered: "Playing one of the best teams in the world, getting a point out of the first game is a big plus."
If England is one of the best teams in the world, then halibut and burdock ice cream is one of the world's best meals.
So many of the England players benefit from playing their club football alongside some of the great foreign stars. Which makes them look just slightly better than that they really are.
They work hard, but, left on their own, their Italian coach can rarely make them think and create, as the lonely figure of Wayne Rooney, bereft of support on Saturday, testified.
The U.S. now goes on to play Slovenia.
Perhaps the first thing you'll be wondering is whether the Slovenes have a fast-twitching goalkeeper.
Well, his name is Samir Handanovic and he plays for Udinese in Italy. His cousin is his backup.
But it's not a good idea to be overconfident, should you wish the Americans onward. Slovenia knocked out Russia to get to this stage.
And what if the Slovenian goalkeeper can catch?
Chris Matyszczyk is an award-winning creative director who advises major corporations on content creation and marketing, and an avid sports fan. He is also the author of the popular CNET blog Technically Incorrect.
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