Americans excited about soccer stars

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:25 PM ET

JOHANNESBURG – When they were euphorically celebrating in their victorious dressing room, there was former president Bill Clinton to shake their hands.

When they arrived back at their hotel and clicked on the TV, there was New York Mets third baseman David Wright on the screen, wearing a Landon Donovan jersey.

Indeed, Soccer-palooza has swept through the U.S., thanks to the American World Cup team and its Cinderella run into the Round of 16.

U.S. soccer officials couldn’t have written a better script, not to mention television execs with ABC and ESPN. And when Donovan and his teammates take to the pitch for their knockout-stage date with Ghana in Rustenburg at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, viewership is expected to exceed the 13 million people who watched the American’s opening-game draw with England two weeks ago.

It is almost a surreal feeling for the American players, who are starting to understand the deep footprint their exciting run here in South Africa is leaving on home soil.

Jozy Altidore realized it when he checked his phone messages after his team’s amazing 1-0 victory Wednesday, a game in which Donovan’s extra-time goal dramatically propelled the U.S. into the second round.

A handful of messages, perhaps?

Try 134.

The Americans are attempting to reach the semi-finals again for the first time since 1994, when they hosted the World Cup. In order to do that, they need two more victories.

According to Altidore, why settle for just that?

“Two more wins would be great for us,” Altidore said. “But why not four more? Anything’s possible. I mean, we’re in it to win it.”

Why not four indeed?

Part of the love-in between Team USA and its fans comes from the high drama the Americans have produced.

In two of the three games they have played, they have allowed the first goal and found themselves behind the eight ball. And twice, they came from behind to snatch at least a draw.

It must be riveting. After all, Clinton has actually changed his plans to leave South Africa in order to be in Rustenberg for the game.

If that's not an endorsement, what is?

BECKENBAUER BRAVADO

If German great Franz Beckenbauer continues to shoot off his mouth, the English will need a bigger bulletin board upon which to tack up his quotes.

Less than two weeks after claiming England had gone backwards under manager Fabio Capello, Beckenbauer was at it again, this time slagging the English in the German magazine Bild Thursday.

According to Beckenbauer, a German-England clash would be better suited for later on in the tournament rather than in the Round of 16, but “stupidly, the English blundered by finishing second in the group.”

German manager Joachim Loew obviously doesn’t share Beckenbauer’s sentiments.

“Sometimes a team gets into rhythm only during a tournament,” Loew said. “They have excellent players: (Frank) Lampard, (Steven) Gerrard or (Wayne) Rooney. They are very dangerous and have a lot of experience.

“Wayne Rooney can always explode. He has scored an incredible number of goals in the Premier League. This is going to be a huge job for our defence. Rooney is very difficult to stop.”

By defenders, perhaps.

But what happens if his ailing ankle doesn’t heal in time?

Just another sidebar in this huge Group of 16 showdown Sunday.

EXTRA TIME

Time for the Diego Maradona daily sound bite.

In this instalment, the outspoken Argentine manager claims he may ring up Champions League-winning manager Jose Mourinho for advice as his team heads into the knockout round Sunday at Soccer City against Mexico.

In fact, Maradona has Mourinho’s number “on his bedside.”

We don’t want to know what else is there.

“I like Mourinho a lot. I’ve got his phone number, I might call him,” Maradona said. “We spent hours talking about football, attacking and defensive tactics.

“He seemed to me a guy to take to your bedside table and ask him each time you need something.”

The World According To Diego is never boring, is it?

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca


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