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I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t see this one coming. Entering the game as a heavy underdog, the U.S. National Team miraculously earned a 1-1 draw with world soccer superpower England in their World Cup opener on Saturday evening in South Africa.
The eyes of the world were fixed on Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa to witness the much anticipated clash between an up and coming U.S. squad, and a star-laden English side looking to capture its first World Cup Title since 1966.
England drew first blood in the fourth minute, when Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard received a pass from Emile Heskey, flew by U.S. defender Ricardo Clark, and beat U.S. goalie Tim Howard with an outside of the foot finish from close range. It appeared it was going to be a very long night for the Americans early on, but they managed to regain their composure following Gerrard’s goal.
The U.S. managed to create a great deal of possession in the latter part of the first half, and got the little bit of luck they needed in the 40th minute when Clint Dempsey’s speculative long range strike found its way through the hands of English keeper Robert Green, and into the back of the net.
“The goal shocked us a bit. … It took us a while to get over it,” said Gerrard.
Dempsey’s goal was devastating for England, and it was just what the U.S. needed to get back into the game after falling behind early. With the score suddenly level 1-1 at the half, and the Americans looking confident and poised, it became clear it was anyone’s game.
Tim Howard, who spends most of his time making big saves for Everton in the English Premier League, proved why he is widely deemed one of the best goal keepers in the world. The U.S. keeper made save after save throughout the second half to keep his side level. His most spectacular stop came in the 52nd minute when England striker Emile Heskey got behind the U.S. back line and ripped a close range shot directly into his stomach. Howard somehow managed to smother the shot, with the ever so dangerous Wayne Rooney waiting to put home a potential rebound.
“I think when you play at the highest level and against the best competition, it will bring the best out of you,” Howard said.
Striker Jozy Altidore nearly put the U.S. ahead in the 65th minute. The young Hull City forward beat center back Jamie Carragher on a run down the left side of the pitch, and rifled a shot that went through Robert Green’s hands, and deflected off of the near post.
As the game wore on, and Howard continue making saves against the likes of Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard, and Steven Gerrard, England grew frustrated. Despite out-shooting the Americans 18-12, they failed to get the late winner they so desperately desired.
The U.S. earned more than just a point against England on Saturday. The draw will give the U.S. a ton of confidence heading into their final two group matches versus Slovenia on Friday, and Algeria on June 23. Certainly, earning a point against the heavily favored English side will go a long way toward helping the U.S. team forget its disappointing first-round exit in 2006.
However, the U.S. knows they still have their work cut out for them. There was little expectation for the Americans heading into Saturday’s game against England, but they will be expected to emerge victorious in their next two matches. With expectations comes added pressure, and Bob Bradley can’t let that affect the way his team plays against Slovenia and Algeria. Tim Howard, whose been here before, knows what’s at stake.
“I’m glad it’s over, there was a lot of hype and pressure,” Howard said. “I’m glad we put in a performance we can be proud of. But we can’t make too, too much of it.”
The draw will feel more like a loss for England, who will look to rebound from their disappointing opening round match when they take on Algeria on June 18.
|18(6)||Shots (on Goal)||12(4)|
|57%||Time of Possession||43%|