By twhalliii | THE BACK ROW MANIFESTO by Tom Hall June 12, 2006 at 2:48AM
What a weekend of football! The World Cup kicked off this weekend with eight games, all of which produced various thrills and excitement. Highlights include Ecudaor thumping Poland 2-0, Trinidad and Tobago, the smallest nation ever to qualify for the tournament, holding group power Sweden to a 0-0 draw thanks to an inspired performance from West Ham keeper Shaka Hislop, and an fired-up Mexico beating Iran 3-1 with, although it is hard for me to admit, impressive style. Lowlights included a dour England side using terribly misinformed tactics to eke out a 1-0 win aganst Paraguay, and Portugal's poor work in the final third of the pitch in their 1-0 victory against Angola.
But there is no getting around it: Group C, aka the Group of Death, produced the two best matches of the tournament so far, and it only gets better from here. First, Argentina used clinical finishing by Hernan Crespo and Javier Saviola to capitalize on two chances among few and beat a very quick, game Cote d'Ivoire 2-1 on Saturday. The game was a pulsating affair, and after Didier Drogba scored in the 82nd minute to pull the CIV within a goal, it was crunch time for the final ten minutes as his team chased an equaliser that unfortunately never arrived.
Didier Drogba is fouled by Argentina's Gabriel Heinze. Or was he? (AP Photo)
Then on Sunday, The Netherlands beat an offisde trap and sent Arjen Robben sprinting toward the goal and he made no mistake, putting The Netherlands up 1-0 with a perfect strike at a full run. The game then became a physical and tense match as Serbia Montenegro sought an equalizer. The match went back and forth, with Robben dominating play with his pace and ability to beat players on the ball. His teammates may have had different ideas; post-match reports hinted about teammates criticizing the Dutch winger for selfish play and not providing service to his hard-running strikers. Either way, the goal was decisive as Serbia Montenegro went begging up front. A 1-0 final. These four teams have four more matches between them, and each will be a must-see match during the tournament.
The Netherlands' Arjen Robben celebrates his game winner. (AP Photo)
Tomorrow, Team USA takes to the pitch against a very experienced, technically masterful Czech Republic. I am so excited for the match, I have no idea how I will sleep tonight. If the previous games have provided any clue to the situation for the USA tomorrow, it is that in games like this one, against an accomplished, professional side, the chances on goal will be few and far between. The USA needs to finish their chances, a problem for this team in recent matches, because The Czechs will not fail to punish our mistakes. This game will come down to which team makes the most of their opportunities, and while history is on the side of the Czechs, I think Bruce Arena will have the USA focused, loose, and ready. I am not going to predict a result here, but I am as prepared to be heartbroken as I am to celebrate. Come what may, I stand behind my team and I hope that they can show the world how far we've come as a footballing nation. The game is hugely important: In the previous two World Cups, only one team has lost its opening match and still advanced (Turkey, 2002). So, we need a result. Let's go take it. Come On You Yanks! Go USA!!!
Kasey Keller warms up in Gelsenkirchen, Germany prior to the US match against the Czech Republic. Will he shine on Monday? (AP Photo)