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The Helena Arkansas Daily World - Helena, AR
  • Don Cuddy: U.S. soccer team left it all on the field

  • It was good while it lasted, but the United States team is coming home.
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  • It was good while it lasted, but the United States team is coming home.
    They gave everything, but in the end just came up short against a better team. In a dramatic climax to what had been a largely one-sided game, the final minutes of extra time saw the U.S. playing with a passion that had been largely absent for most of a torrid evening in Salvador. Had it not been for goalkeeper Tim Howard delivering a career-best performance, the score would have been a lot less flattering to the U.S. than the 2-1 result suggests. Howard was simply magnificent throughout, as the Belgians dominated possession, controlled midfield and rained shots down on the U.S. goal.
    Coach Jurgen Klinsmann sprang a surprise by omitting the excellent Kyle Beckerman from the starting lineup and introducing the muscular Geoff Cameron in midfield. It didn’t work. Jones dropped deep and was not making the forward runs that were so effective in earlier games, Michael Bradley could not get a foothold in the middle, Clint Dempsey was a lonely figure upfront and Alejandro Bedoya and Graham Zusi on the flanks were peripheral figures as the U.S. chased possession.
    Kevin DeBruyne, 23, was running the show for a very good Belgian side that, quite apart from Howard’s heroics in goal, spurned several chances to put the game beyond the U.S. in regulation.
    The only surprise was Belgium’s failure to score, and it remained 0-0 at the end of regulation. The breakthrough finally came on 93 minutes and it was perfectly apt that the tireless DeBruyne was the scorer. It looked to be all over for the U.S. Then Romelu Lukaku made it 2-0 and the fat lady began clearing her throat.
    But this is Brazil 2014, this is the World Cup and we should know by now that the unexpected is the new normal.
    When 19-year-old Julian Green came on for the U.S. it seemed as though Klinsmann was simply allowing the lad a few minutes of playing time to get a taste of the World Cup atmosphere. Then Green scored with his first touch after Bradley picked out his run with a great lob over the top.
    A wonderful goal! Suddenly the U.S. team, and the stadium, came alive. The Belgians completely lost their composure, and there were eight breathless minutes of all-out attack that very nearly saw the U.S. snatch a tying goal.
    It was Les Diables Rouges who sighed with relief when the final whistle brought this World Cup to an end for the U.S.
    We can now look back, dissect the result, and question the tactics. But we cannot say that these players did not represent their country with pride. This campaign has earned U.S. soccer the respect of the soccer-playing nations.
    Page 2 of 3 - Belgium are a very good team and are gaining momentum with each game. They are more than a match for the Argentina side they will now play in the quarterfinal and good luck to them.
    Argentina 1, Switzerland 0
    Two hours of anguish for Argentina. Loaded with individual talent and with huge support from their traveling fans, they managed to look shaky at the back, were outplayed in midfield and shut down on offense. Their play lacked precision and conviction.
    Switzerland gave us honest toil, bravery and a no-nonsense display of real teamwork and they appeared entirely capable of holding out indefinitely. The penalty shootout approached in a game where their chances had been written off by everyone, myself included, beforehand. Then came the agony of that late goal as Messi opened them up and Angel di Maria finished clinically. Messi ability to run at goal with the ball at his feet and glide past people as though they were traffic cones is what makes him so special. His team once again had to turn to this slight figure to get them out of a jam.
    That goal should have been the end. Instead the valiant Swiss team gambled everything in a frantic finale and came within an inch of success. For the rest of his life Swiss midfielder Blerim Dzemaili will wonder how he failed to score from a free header at point-blank range with the goal gaping. The ball struck the base of the post and bounced back, hitting him on the knee before he could react and drifted inches wide.
    It was a heart-stopping moment.
    There have been so many! What are we going to do when this tournament ends? Skydiving maybe?
    One thing that emerged from this game is the certainty that Argentina will not win the World Cup. Messi is undoubtedly a magician but there is no team perspiration to accompany his inspiration and no leadership. If Argentina even get past Belgium, the Netherlands will relish the opportunity to eliminate them in the semifinal. Then again, Costa Rica might have something to say to the Netherlands about that.
    It just keeps getting better in Brazil. Let us now exhale and return to Earth until the euphoria returns this weekend.
    Most interesting man
    ESPN’s Ian Darke is beginning to grate. We know the networks are suckers for an English accent, and Darke does have a pretty good understanding of the game. But with all the exposure he is getting, his propensity for pomposity becomes more noticeable. He informed us Tuesday that a Belgian player who speaks six languages “is bright as a button.” Perhaps Darke should pop down to the locker room and pat the little chap on the head.
    Page 3 of 3 - Want to talk World Cup with Don? Contact him at 13cilleanna@gmail.com.
     
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