Countdown to kickoff
It’s a little past 2 a.m. in middle America. I’m sitting at my computer with season 8 of One Tree Hill playing. We are nine hours away from the kickoff of the most anticipated football game in the history of the United States of America.
Have I gone mad? Have I forgotten about 48 Super Bowls? Nope. I’m serious, because it’s the game everyone else calls football.
Of course, Americans and Canadians call it soccer. But from this point forward, I will use the Spanish spelling, futbol, to distinguish it from the gridiron game Americans and Canadians love so much.
Just past 11 a.m. Central, the Americans will face mighty Germany in the final round of play in Group G at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
World Cup Fever is at an all-time high in Uncle Sam’s land. Part of it comes from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when Landon Donovan scored a goal in stoppage time to defeat Algeria and advance to the knockout stage, where the Americans lost a heartbreaker in extra time to Ghana. Part of it comes from American manager Jurgen Klinsmann, who played for West Germany’s 1990 World Cup championship team and coached Deutschland in the 2006 Cup, when host Germany reached the semifinals.
Klinsmann didn’t exactly endear himself to most American futbol fans leading up to the World Cup because of two controversial decisions.
First, he left Donovan off the final 23-man roster which traveled to Brazil. Donovan is probably the most popular male player to wear the United States kit, and he played in the World Cup in 2002, 2006 and 2010. Even though Donovan scored the dramatic goal vs. Algeria four years ago and was part of the 2002 team which reached the quarterfinals before losing 1-0 to Germany, Klinsmann felt (correctly, in my opinion) Donovan’s advanced age was of limited use, and his stamina was a question, especially given the debilitating heat and humidity of Brazil. Klinsmann believed he would be better served by using young players and let them learn on the job. He figured if the Americans didn’t make it out of the group, which was termed the “Group of Death” before the tournament, the experience would serve them well in 2018 in Russia, provided the Americans qualified.
Second, Klinsmann angered Americans, both futbol fans and non-futbol fans alike, by stating the US lacked a realistic chance of winning the World Cup. Not what championship crazed Americans wanted to hear. Fans of every team in every sport, from the New York Yankees and Miami Heat to the Florida Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars, expect to hear their leaders state “we are going to win every game we play” and “the championship is our only goal” and other cliches. I’m sorry, but I found Klinsmann’s honesty refreshing. He’s been around the elite level of futbol far too long and is well aware just how strong the sides from Europe and South America are. To ask the Americans to first get out of a group which includes Germany and Portugal, two elite European teams, and a strong African side in Ghana, and then have to navigate their way through Belgium, France and others is too much for ask, especially for a tenderfoot American squad.
The Americans began the tournament well enough. Clint Dempsey scored 30 seconds into the match vs. Ghana, the fifth fastest goal to begin a match in World Cup history. John Brooks came off the bench and scored in the 86th minute to lift the US to a 2-1 victory and three huge points.
The Portugal match, played in brutal conditions in the Amazon Rainforest metropolis of Manaus, was unforgettable. An errant clearing pass by the Americans early in the match led to an easy Portugal goal, and the first half ended with Portugal ahead 1-0. The US came to life in the second half, scoring twice, with Dempsey’s goal in the 80th minute putting the Stars and Stripes up 2-1 and approximately 10 minutes away from a guaranteed berth in the knockout stage, regardless of what happened vs. Germany.
In futbol, the clock does not stop and counts up, unlike football, basketball and hockey, where the clock is stopped for injuries, the ball/puck going out of bounds, and of course, television, and it counts down. The referee in a futbol match has the discretion to add what is known as “stoppage time” to the end of each half. In this case, the referee declared there would be at least five minutes added to the end of the second half.
If there were exactly five minutes added, the US would have won. However, about 30 seconds after that five minutes had supposedly elapsed, Portugal’s best player and the reigning FIFA Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo, played a perfect pass into the box, and Portugal’s Silvestre Varela headed it past US goalkeeper Tim Howard to level the match. It literally was the last play of the match, because the referee blew his whistle 10 seconds later.
Germany, which defeated Portugal 4-0 but drew Ghana 2-2, and the US each have four points (three for a win, one for a draw). If the match ends in a draw, both teams advance, and Ghana and Portugal will both be eliminated, regardless of what happens. If the US loses, it had better hope that Ghana does not win by two goals or more. If that happens, the US is out.
The kickoff time is great news for futbol fans in the Eastern and Central time zones, because the vast majority of sports bars open at 11 a.m. I wonder what those in the Mountain and Pacific zones will do. The bars will open for the second half in the Mountain zone, but not until too late in the far west.
I’m tempted to make it to Buffalo Wild Wings in Kansas City for the 11 am.. kick. Part of me says stay away. Decisions, decisions. Either way, gotta make it fast.