Soccer is the quintessential team game—unlike baseball or cricket, which are, in truth, sports for individuals masquerading as collective enterprises. And yet, even in soccer, a flash of individual brilliance that lasts no more than a second can upend the physics of collision over nearly 90 minutes between two well-matched teams. Equally, as we witnessed today in the World Cup match between England and the U.S.A., a flash of individual incompetence, of monstrously butterfingered clumsiness—a howler that takes but three seconds to play and replay, play and replay, in a remorseless loop of instant infamy—can determine the outcome of a match just as surely as a moment’s genius.
Rob Green, England’s goalkeeper, took the special relationship between his country and the U.S. to extreme lengths by gifting to Clint Dempsey the softest goal you will see in years of soccer-watching. For this, he will go down in soccer folklore just as emphatically as Gordon Banks did in the 1970 World Cup, when he effected—in Mexico City, in England’s game against Brazil—a save that most soccer fans regard as the finest in history. Watch it here and compare the dapper impenetrability of Banks with the forlorn porousness of Rob Green: as clear a contrast as you will ever see between human frailty and human overachievement.
• Harold Evans: The Ghosts of England’s Soccer Past• Alex Massie: Can England Forgive Robert Green?In the end, the result was a 1-1 draw (a “tie” in American), a score we shall remember as reflecting the impressive advances that American soccer has made in the last year. Once, the team was derided as a bunch of amateurs; today, the only amateur on the field was the goalkeeper of the side that prides itself on its hard, pitiless professionalism. The heart bleeds for Rob Green, but the result, while unfair—even tragic—at some cosmic level, was in the end entirely just.
Tunku Varadarajan is a national affairs correspondent and writer at large for The Daily Beast. He is also a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and a professor at NYU’s Stern Business School. He is a former assistant managing editor at The Wall Street Journal. (Follow him on Twitter here.)
Plus: Our Complete Coverage of World Cup 2010: Photos and Videos.