2010 World Cup: Landon Donovan's Late Goal Saves Soccer in the United States
I don't mean to state the obvious.
Clearly, Landon Donovan's brilliant strike with 90:45 showing on the clock preserved the 2010 World Cup hopes of the United States of America.
Not only did the winner land us atop Group C and propel the Stars and Stripes into the next round of soccer's biggest tournament, it did so with the team only moments away from an excruciating fate—an undeserved and premature exit.
But the magical moment was much bigger than that.
It didn't merely stave off a single elimination in this year's tourney. It prevented a more permanent elimination of the game from the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.
Take this from an ugly American who absolutely adores the World Cup—it was on the way out in the Former Colonies thanks to the showing in South Africa.
Even I was prepping it for the scrap heap and, like I said, I ordinarily love FIFA's premiere exhibition.
You cannot beat it for passion.
There are simply no rivalries in any other sport that can compare with those you see played out on the pitch during a World Cup.
On September 1, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland to fan the early flames of World War II. The Polish military had literally no chance against the enormous and brutal war machine it faced, but they fought in defense of their native soil. It didn't end well.
When the smoke cleared, Hitler and Stalin essentially tore the country in half (Slovakia got a token shred).
Hundreds of thousands of Poles were annihilated in the process. Entire populations simply disappeared and the exterminations were not limited to Jewish communities, though they were attacked with the cruelest efficiency.
Skip forward about 70 years to the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
The host country and Poland found themselves in the same group, guaranteeing an exchange of pleasantries on German soil in the first round.
Additionally, Die Mannschaft were led by strikers Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski. The pair would combine for eight goals, Klose would take home the Golden Boot as the Cup's top scorer, and Podolski's three tallies would finish in a tie for second.
Both German strikers are Polish-born.
Think there might've been some emotion on that field? Maybe a drop or two in the stands?
Or how about when liberated colonies face their masters from antiquity?
The Ivory Coast would probably relish a shot or two at Les Bleus of France. I know we enjoyed ours at England.
For that matter, Argentina, Chile, Honduras, Paraguay, and Uruguay would probably take a little extra satisfaction in shellacking Spain. Mexico could be in that group or it might prefer a bite at the Americans.
Brazil can't feel too sympathetic toward Portugal while Nigeria and Ghana would have extra incentive against the Brits. Cameroon might join them or lump itself in with Algeria to exact a little revenge from France.
To contend with these animosities engendered by death and bloodshed, U.S. sports can meekly offer the Yankees and the Red Sox, the Giants and the Dodgers, the Lakers and the Celtics, and/or whatever NFL rivalry we're pretending exists these days.
Seems a tad silly, doesn't it?
The World Cup is also a beautiful display of athleticism and a game played at its highest level. Plus, the announcers' refreshing honesty, novel vernacular, and awesome accents make for fantastic entertainment during the lulls.
Oh, and the national team nicknames are top notch.
Nevertheless, this year's abomination had been souring even those of us on the fence with a heavy lean going in soccer's favor.
The problem has not been the caliber of play—any reasonable fan understands performance is an unpredictable variable even amongst the most elite practitioners. Furthermore, the action has improved drastically from the opening salvo of contests.
The problem has been, frankly, all the nonsense.
The refereeing and FIFA's handling of the zebras have been most egregious, but the diving has been a close second.
It's one thing to flop in hopes of getting a call. American fans can tolerate that if not appreciate it because we see it in the National Basketball Association and, to a lesser degree, in the National Football League (from kickers and quarterbacks).
But what we've seen from the Dark Continent in '10 has been beyond the bounds of sportsmanship, honor and fair play.
Especially because the shameful exaggeration and/or outright deceit has been endemic.
I'm still at a loss as to why the Italian side gets such an infamous rap for overacting; the Azzurri might have originated the con, but it's been perfected by many other nationalities since then.
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo—allegedly the best player in the world—looks like his career might be over whenever a cleat invades his personal space.
One would think the African nations might produce a stouter sort of footballer considering the rugged environs from which many of them presumably come. Uh uh, they writhe in agony after a phantom blow only to pop back up at full tilt just like everyone else.
We saw Chile's Arturo Vidal go down like he took a sniper's bullet rather than a fingernail from Switzerland's Valon Behrami. That bit of super-drama earned the Swiss player a red card and an ejection, forcing Schweizer Nati to play a man down for most of the game.
Of course, that didn't stop La Roja from celebrating their eventual 1-0 victory like they'd earned it.
New Zealand's Winston Reid made history when his equalizer with time running out against Slovakia gave the Kiwis their first World Cup point in the country's history. But he made my s*** list days later when an Italian player barely clipped him in the shoulder and Reid fell to the ground cradling his face as if someone had cracked it with a baseball bat.
In a word, the flopping has been repugnant. If I were an up-and-coming soccer player, I'd be thoroughly embarrassed.
THIS is the best the world has to offer?!?
Which means the officiating must be truly indefensible to receive top-billing.
Enough words have been written about referee Koman Coulibaly's unexplained and inexplicable thievery of Maurice Edu's goal against Slovenia. Luckily, Donovan's miracle saves us the trouble of discussing it further and of figuring out the name of the blind donkey who disallowed Clint Dempsey's first half goal against Algeria (for non-existent offsides).
The U.S.A. has not been alone on the receiving end of metaphorical middle fingers from the refs. Just the most pivotal ones, to date...unless you count the pre-World Cup handball that cost Ireland a trip in the first place and sent France instead (that's a double oops).
The stripes must also eat some blame for all the soap-opera-acting—good God, they seem to whistle any and all contact if a player screeches loud enough.
The most unforgivable development, however, has been the governing body's refusal to address the mistakes or even acknowledge they exist. "Very, very satisfied " was the phrase used by the FIFA official in reference to the zebras' efforts.
What the hell World Cup is he watching?
The rationale here is that the mystery creates discussion and that's good for the game. As deep-thinkers love to remind you, "there's no such thing as bad publicity."
Wonderful, except the guy credited with popularizing that sentiment—P.T. Barnum—operated a circus, a theater of the bizarre in every sense of the word.
For that sort of operation, there IS no such thing as bad publicity.
I doubt FIFA wants to reduce its crown jewel to the level of a freak show, desperate just to be on the public's lips. Unfortunately, that's exactly where the World Cup was headed as far as America was concerned.
But then Landon Donovan's right leg saved the day.
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