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Barbary Wars, the Sequel: US Moves On for First Time Since ’94

| June 23, 2010

The Americans are back on African soil, battling, as they did 200 years ago, a North Arican upstart.

Post-game update: What a fabulous match, what a fabulous ending, what an overdue, deserved, fantastic finish. Landon Donavan, in extra time, scored the only goal of the match, and sent the Americans on to the next round for the first time since the 1994 World Cup, along with England. Slovenia and Algeria are out. All in the waning seconds of a match that had it all: blown calls, blown chances, blown faces (and blood on faces, too). A fantastic match. The Algerians played fair football but displayed foul, foul sportsmanship.

This is what football is about: for 90 minutes, including yet another disallowed goal for the US, the tension was a high-powered electric line stretched from South Africa to the North American continent. It looked like all hope was gone. And yet, and then, Donavan again. “I’m shocked and I’m so proud,” Donavan just said on TV.

“we had to take some risks. Our guys in the back did a great job…” But who cares: it’s not the words in football, it’s never the words. It’s the beauty of the unexpected, the occasional poetry of justice finally served, at least in these overwhelmingly meaningless, overwhelmingly satisfying ways.

You knew this result was due. Of course it was due. And now it’s done.


If this was a civilized soccer nation, today would have been declared a national holiday, all public meetings would have been canceled and all eyes trained on South Africa, where the United States is playing Algeria in a World Cup match that will decide whether the US goes on to the next round or heads home.

For the US it’s a replay of the Jefferson era, when the US Navy was born with the single purpose of taking on the Barbary Coast’s pirates, among them Algerian upstarts who had a habit of capturing US merchant ships. Algerians were under the assumption that, the US being a babyish nation at the time, its ships would be defenseless, its goods easy pickings.

The Algerians (and the rest of their Barbary pirates) were mistaken.

Slightly different story today. The Barbary coast is a soccer pitch. The outcome will decide absolutely nithing more elevated than bragging rights. This is, all told, nothing more than a game, 11 grown men on each side running around a pitch and kicking a round ball. It’s pretty absurd. It’s also the be all and end all of life as we know it, or ought to know it, at least for the next 90 minutes.

Two matches are going on simultaneously: US-Algeria, and England-Slovenia. Slovenia is at the top of the group with four points. England and the US are next with two points each. Algeria is last. Only two of the four teams will advance. A victory for the US ensures a second-round berth–as long as England doesn’t win by scoring four or five goals, in which case England will advance on goal differentials. OK.

I’ve abandoned all pretenses of doing anything so non-critical as covering today’s news, at least until early afternoon. I’ve set up two screens to follow both matches simultaneously. The rest will be commented live in the box below.

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