They beat us. They beat us bad. Not only that, but they embarassed our team, our nation, and they have positioned US soccer to take a huge beating in terms of its progress as an institution in this country. The Czechs also made it difficult for Americans abroad to walk tall when the word "football" comes up in conversation, and let's face it, there is no better way to enter a conversation in a bar in whatever part of Europe than to start displaying an even basic knowledge of the game. So, should those of us who paid $2,000 and flew twelve hours to get to Germany feel bad about the journey? Hell no. Those of us who had the privelege of seeing the other red, white, and blue team know that it was a performance worth applauding from both sides of the stadium.
In a word, the Czechs played a flawless game. Ninety minutes is a long time not to make a single major mistake. There were no desperate or pointless fouls in the box. There were no careless giveaways. Their defense missed no chance to outmuscle our smaller guys, thus affording their goaltender Petr Cech (reputed by Europeans to be the best in the world) to play error-free ball. They let us hit the post one time, but to quote a local German fan, "nobody aims for the post, because it counts the same as missing the goal entirely." Excellent point.
And within six minutes, the Czechs scored enough goals to hold the vicotry. Their shot, a picture-perfect cross header by Jan Koller, was all they needed to make every roudy US fan, a contingent that represented about three quarters of the stadium, to sit down for good. As for our Pilsner-drinking rivals, who had actually coordinated the selection of one flag color to wear (red), they would have been content to watch 84 scoreless minutes. They played their drums, sang, did some sort of weird jumping dance, and screamed with surprise when Tomas Rosicky accepted a lucky bounce off Guch Onyewu's head and capitalized with one of the tournament's most beautifully unstoppable goals.
For those who stayed in Gelsenkirchen long after the final whistle blew, the party at Fan Fest, a movie screen surrounded by beer tents for those who liked to pre and post game, there was plenty to sulk about. But nobody seemed to sulk. The Czechs didn't rub it in. There was no need to rub it in. They knew that they played well -- so well, in fact, that the day's matchup could be viewed only as a speedbump en route to something potentially much bigger. As for those of us in the Uncle Sam stripes, we were also winners. We got to see it too. Like most of our buddies at home, we could have watched with disgust on TV and bemoaned a rotten seeding draw and a wasted World Cup. But at least we have now seen a soccer performance that we can one day tell our kids about, and even if that's not worth $2,000 in and of itself, the beer here in Gelsenkirchen mitigates any sense of feeling ripped off.