The USA deservedly pipped England to top Group C. Having seen a perfectly good goal disallowed against Slovenia, which would have given Bob Bradley’s side a 3-2 win, the US were again on the wrong end of an offside decision during the Algeria match.
Fortunately, Landon Donovan popped up with an injury-time winner to see them leapfrog England and Slovenia to claim top spot and an easier potential passage to the semi-finals, with an inconsistent Ghana their second-round opponents.
It was refreshing to see Donovan’s post-match interview, which has gained some sneering criticism in the British media. Okay, maybe he went a bit over the top, but having endured a miserable time in previous spells in European football earlier in his career, his improvement and impressive showings in South Africa at least shows there are some things more important to a professional footballer than fame and money – a little bit of glory goes a long way with fans.
England improved in their 1-0 ‘thrashing’ of a poor Slovenia side, although Fabio Capello’s side showed weaknesses. A nervy first and final 20, some jittery defensive moments and poor finishing almost cost them a first group phase exit since 1958.
The results meant Group D winners Germany will face England in the finals for the first time since the 1990 World Cup semi-finals – when the then West Germans won on penalties. The hype will be ramped up over the next couple of days, although the general consensus here seems to be that England can do it – ideally on penalties. What is certain is that whoever wins, they will most likely have to defeat Argentina, Spain and Brazil to win the tournament. Good luck with that one.
World champions Italy bowing out gained a lot of attention from Thursday’s matches, with much criticism directed at coach Marcelo Lippi. Although little was expected of a side that hadn’t won a match in 2010, a failure to finish above New Zealand in the group, let alone qualify for the last 16, is almost as dismal as France’s efforts. An over-reliance on the 2006 squad, untimely injuries and ignoring individual talents of the calibre of Cassano and Balotelli are all factors which have contributed to their demise.