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World Cup full of expectations, ends in great disappointment for the US
The US Menís National Soccer Teamís World Cup dreams came to a crashing halt on June 22nd as they lost to Group E underdogs Ghana. The USA managed only a single point in group play, losing to the Czech Republic, tying Italy and ending with a loss to Ghana. Going into the World Cup, the Czech Republic and Italy looked to be the favorites to advance with the USA as firm challengers and Ghana the unknown quantity. Group E, however, considered the ďgroup of deathĒ by many, proved to be just that as it was the only group in which no team had clinched a spot in the next round before their third game.

The US got off to a very poor start against the Czech Republic on June 12th. Just five minutes in Jan Koller, the tallest man on the field at 6 feet 8 inches, scored on a cross by Zdenek Grygera that was poorly defended by the US. The USAís only chance of any magnitude in the match came in the 28th minute, when Claudio Reynaís shot from about 25 yards beat Petr Cech, but deflected off the post. Midfielder Tomas Rosicky dealt the US a crushing blow in the 36th minute when he sent a shot from 30 yards into the upper right corner of the net giving the Czechs a 2-0 lead. 40 minutes later he would finish off the scoring by hammering home a pass from Pavel Nedved. The 3-0 loss left the US in last place in the group and with a poor goal differential.

The team came out flat against the Czech Republic and responded very poorly to the early goal. Arenaís defensive 4-5-1 formation could be questioned as it often left Brian McBride isolated up top with no options. Starting DaMarcus Beasley on the right instead of his preferred spot on the left could also be partly to blame for his very poor performance. US star Landon Donovanís invisibility throughout the match certainly did not help matters either.

Meanwhile in the other match of the group Italy came away with a 2-0 win over Ghana and all seemed to be going well for the favorites of the group.

June 17th provided hope for both underdogs as Ghana recorded a 2-0 win over an injury plagued Czech Republic side, meaning no team would be eliminated before the final
match, regardless of the outcome of the USAís match with Italy.

The US, however, really needed at least a draw to have any realistic chance of advancing. Italy took the lead in the 22nd minute when Alberto Gilardino headed home a free kick from Andrea Pirlo. Just five minutes later, the US equalized when Cristian Zarccado redirected a Bobby Convey free kick into his own net. The match turned ugly a minute later when Daniele De Rossi was ejected for a blatant elbow to the face of McBride. Up a man, the US seemed in great shape, but it didnít last as within the next 20 minutes, referee Jorge Larrionda sent off both Pablo Mastreoni and Eddie Pope on two questionable calls. The US had a call for a penalty kick late in the game when a Nesta handball in the box went unnoticed by the referee, but they had to settle for a gritty draw after playing 9 against 10 for most of the match. US Goalkeeper Kasey Keller earned man of the match for his late saves to keep the US in the game.

The team certainly came out a lot sharper against Italy. The decision to start the New England Revolution's Clint Dempsey instead of Beasley may have had an affect. Offense was still an issue for the team, however, as the US had only produced one shot on goal by the end of two matches and Arena had stuck with the 4-5-1 formation. This was by far the lowest total in the World Cup.

Going into the final game on June 22nd the US needed to defeat Ghana and get help from Italy beating the Czechs to advance. Italy came through with a 2-0 win over the Czechs, but the US failed to take advantage. Haminu Draman opened the scoring in the 22nd minute, when he dispossessed US captain Claudio Reyna and went in alone on goal before beating goalkeeper Kasey Keller with a shot to the far post. To make it even worse, there was a hint of a foul on Dramanís challenge as he banged knees with Reyna, causing him to sprain his MCL and be forced from the game. The US managed to equalize on a great goal in the 43rd minute, when DaMarcus Beasley stole the ball from a Ghanaian defender and ran in on goal before sending a pass across the box to Clint Dempsey. Dempsey slammed the ball past Ghana goalie Richard Kingson to tie the game at 1-1. Just when the US thought they would go in at halftime tied, an atrocious call by referee Markus Merk completely changed the complexion of the game. Oguchi Onyewu made a perfect clearing header in the box, but Razak Pimpong, having no chance of winning the header opted to dive instead. Merk fell for the acting and awarded a penalty kick in one of the most controversial calls of the tournament. Steven Appiah converted the free gift, sending Ghana into halftime with an undeserved 2-1 lead. The US pressed forward in the second half, but were unable to equalize, despite coming close on several occasions, including a Brian McBride header off the post. Ghana, meanwhile, were content to eat up the clock by diving and faking injuries throughout the second half.

The loss was a very disappointing end for the US, who can feel poor refereeing severely hurt their chances of advancing. At the same time it was a sad end for US veteranís Kasey Keller, Brian McBride, Claudio Reyna, Eddie Lewis and others who were all likely playing in their last World Cup. It could also mark the end of Bruce Arenaís reign in charge of the US National Team as his defensive tactics were called into question throughout the tournament. Finally, the poor play of Landon Donovan and his failure to lead the team when they needed it most, should bring some uncertainty on if he is really the right player to be the USAís next captain.
June 23, 2006 Sean Donahue


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