In the 91st minute of a pulsating game, the United States pulled back from the abyss of elimination, pirouetted on the edge of the blackest despair, and buried the ball in Algeria’s net, thereby turning what would have been a result of monumental injustice into one of shriek-aloud elation.
For the second consecutive game, the team was the victim of an atrocious refereeing decision. Against Slovenia, a perfectly good goal that would have won the match was disallowed by a mediocre autocrat from Mali. On Wednesday, a beautiful goal was ruled offside, a decision that numerous, infuriating replays showed was shockingly erroneous. Once was unlucky, twice looked like an evil jinx, a curse, an astrological conspiracy.
Click Below to Watch the U.S.’ Winning Goal
Testing our nerves to the very limit, Team USA transcended the bad call—and some ugly Algerian hacking on the field—to win the match and top their group. The next round, as a result, looks set to throw up some mouthwatering encounters, not merely in sporting terms but with a pungent political flavor as well—and those are always the most delicious. The U.S. should, in all likelihood, face Serbia, a country whose people have not forgiven America for its use of force in the Balkans; and England, which finished second in Team USA’s group, will likely face Germany, the grudge game par excellence.
• Joshua Robinson: Landon Donovan Saves the U.S. Another Embarrassment• Full coverage of the World CupLet us, in the days before the next U.S. game, wallow in the unadulterated pleasure of the team’s achievement. But let us also ask hard questions about the refereeing. Why has the team had two goals disallowed? Is it because referees, subconsciously, still do not take the U.S. seriously as a soccer nation, and are therefore inclined—again, subconsciously—to regard the team’s success as a breach of the game’s natural order?
The truth is that the team is a cohesive, tireless, inspiring unit, whose whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts. Unsung, wholesome, likeable, modest, gentlemanly, civilized: exactly the sort of young men you’d like to ask home to dinner—exactly the sort of team you’d like to see take on its opponents, and win.
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.)