Goalkeeper gaffe gives U.S. a draw
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
England's Jamie Carragher fights for the ball with Jozy Altidore of the U.S. during a 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match at Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg, June 12, 2010. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)
RUSTENBURG - England was visited by the ghost of World Cup past here on Saturday night.
And, for the rest of his life, the visit will haunt England goalkeeper Robert Green, who joins the list of players who have made historical gaffes in the World Cup.
His howler, on American Clint Dempsey's long-range effort in the first half, allowed the Americans to tie England 1-1 in their opening match of Group C.
Somewhere, David Seaman feels great relief. He is remembered as the man who was fooled by a Ronaldinho free kick in the 2002 World Cup, allowing Brazil to advance and sending England home.
While Green's master stroke of incompetence didn't occur in the same kind of pressure situation, it was a far less difficult shot to handle.
England was up 1-0 on a fourth-minute goal by Steven Gerrard, leading to the immediate belief that England was going to rout the Americans.
But the U.S. refused to fold and, rather, took the game to England.
It wasn't until the 40th minute, though, that the U.S. took advantage of Green going walkabout.
Dempsey took a wishful 23-metre shot at Green, who did a marvelous rendition of The Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. He bent over to gather the ball into his body but instead let his hands get in the way. The ball went off his hands and rolled into the net.
For a moment, the stadium was silent in stunned disbelief.
Goaltending was one of the biggest questions for the English going into this tournament. And goaltending is now near the top - along with kicks from the penalty spot, red cards and injuries - on its list of angst at the World Cup.
"Dempsey hit one and it's one I should have saved," Green said. "Full stop. It's very disappointing, but it's happened. The most important thing is not to let it affect myself."
And while Green will wear the villain's cloak, it was far from a quality overall English performance. It was not the stuff of world champions.
The hope was that the first game would be merely a first step. Instead, it provided the first stumble and offered up several questions that England now needs to answer.
"We played very well in the second half," said England coach Fabio Capello. "But the mistake is the mistake."
The picturesque stadium here provided an intimate backdrop for one of the most anticipated games of this World Cup.
England was greeted with great cheers and the stadium was ringed below the second level by the familiar St. George's Cross flags.
But there were nowhere near the number of usual England fans that follow the team, evidence that travel to South Africa frightened a great many of them away.
When the teams were introduced, it was the Americans who got the louder ovation.
Capello took some risks with his lineup. Green was one and midfielder James Milner was another.
By the 31st minute mark, Milner had more fouls than touches and Capello substituted him with Shaun Wright Phillips.
Past managers never would have substituted in the first half hour, but Capello wasn't going to wait for things to get worse with Milner. On the other hand, he made a mistake starting him.
England's desperation showed in the second half. It pushed forward and created many good chances.
The Americans controlled Wayne Rooney, but it still took some splendid saves from American 'keeper Tim Howard to prevent England from going up. He was the man of the match.
But the Americans had their own opportunity to win when Jozy Altidore had a marvelous chance, but his shot went off Green and then the woodwork.
The previous time these two teams met in the World Cup was 1950 in Brazil when the United States defeated England 1-0 in one of the greatest upsets in soccer history.
That game has been big news since the teams were drawn together in Group C.
A win by either team likely would have made for comfortable qualification to the second round.
Now, England will be sweating.