Sweating the World Cup: Watching U.S. vs. Germany

June 27, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 27, 2014

I wrote the other day about my sports calendar. That post started out as…well, as this post, only I turned out to have written them in the wrong order!

Anyway, the United States men’s national team played Germany at noon Eastern time on Thursday for a chance to reach the knockout round of the 2014 World Cup. For months, Group G — U.S., Germany, Portugal and Ghana, which had knocked America out of the previous two tournaments — had been labeled the “Group of Death.” Out of this intimidating field of four, only the top two teams could advance.

The U.S. had beaten Ghana, 2-1, in its opening game, but the second match had resulted in an agonizing tie-from-ahead draw, 2-2. (Portugal’s last goal came in the 95th minute, the latest-ever regulation score in Cup history.) The Americans didn’t need a win to get to the tournament quarterfinals, but victory would guarantee advancement. Obviously, the stakes were pretty high.

I left home on my bicycle a little before noon and arrived after the match was under way. My viewing venue was Bull McCabe’s, an Irish (er, Scottish? No, Irish…I think) pub in downtown Durham. Four years ago, when the World Cup was staged half a world away, in South Africa, I’d watched the matches at Bull McCabe’s.

But the bar is now very different from the way it used to be — at least on the outside. Back then, fans packed themselves at tables inside the humid, crowded bar. Presumably, that happened on Thursday, too, but I sat myself down on one of the benches in the small sward beside Bull McCabe’s. This space, once essentially vacant, has been transformed into a sort of beer garden; sometime over the last year, the bar added an exterior patio, and table service is now available outside.

So instead of being hot and sweaty inside a bar, I was hot and sweaty outside a bar — and also exposed to direct sunlight. I later learned that these conditions were more or less diametrically opposed to those in Recife, where the match was played in an ongoing downpour that had drenched the Brazilian city overnight.

And what of the game itself? It was riveting, both because the outcome was so important and because the score remained so close.

Which isn’t to say that the teams were close; to the contrary, Germany’s ball-handling skills seemed to be superior to America’s throughout the 90 minutes. Time after time, the Nationalmannschaft strung together long possessions, moving the ball into U.S. territory, passing it around, advancing toward the goal, trying to find favorable configurations of players. By comparison, when the spheroid was in American custody, the white-clad players typically only got in a handful of passes before the Germans won the ball back.

I did think that the Americans were very strong on defense. Often, as a German approached the goal, a U.S. player would meet him and the ball would rocket out of harm’s way. If the American backfield can perform at the same level going forward, the Yanks have a decent shot at staying alive.

But to guarantee survival, they will have to finish their shots. The team had a few promising chances, but they could never get on the scoreboard. That won’t do in the knockout round.

The heat and humidity in Durham while I was watching the match was dreadful, and I rued not having brought a hat, because there were no good shady spots by the time I got to the outdoor seating area.

The bar brought in a few tents to shade some of the picnic tables, but they didn’t do it for the spot where I was sitting. I ended up draping a towel over my head and neck at intervals to cut down on the potential for sunburn. I emptied out my water bottle, also regretting that I hadn’t refrigerated the lukewarm liquid beforehand.

I didn’t dare try ordering food or beer until after the second half got under way, given the crush of people both inside and outside the establishment. It wasn’t quite as difficult as I’d feared, but in all the noise and hubbub, the bartender misinterpreted my request for cider and a burger as being for cider and a porter. (We worked it out after she approached me with two glasses.) This trip indoors had a side benefit, as I realized that the management had positioned portable water coolers around the grounds. Alas, the one I used to refill my water bottle was (a) nearly out of water and (b) contained liquid that was also lukewarm.

Still, it was a lot of fun to be amid a crowd that was so enthralled by the match, shouting in excitement when the U.S. knocked the ball away from the Germans and groaning when the Germans quashed an American scoring chance.

In the end, the U.S. lost the game to Germany, 1-0, but won entry to the quarterfinals thanks to Portugal’s victory over Ghana. (Goal differential gave the U.S. the nod, don’t you know?!)

America’s team will play next on Tuesday afternoon against Belgium. It should be exciting.

Go U.S.A.!

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