Friday, July 22, 2005

gold cup

The US men's national soccer team managed to dispatch Honduras with two late goals Thursday in New Jersey to reach the final of the Gold Cup, a championship for teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean (aka CONCACAF in one of the ugliest acronyms in international sports). In that game they will meet Panama, which shocked Colombia 3-2 in the other semi-final match on Thursday.

The US is ranked sixth in the world in FIFA's ratings. This is a team which came within a whisker of beating Germany to reach the semifinals of the World Cup in 2002, a team which beat Panama 3-0 in Panama earlier this year in World Cup qualifying play. The US will even get to host Panama, ranked 83rd by FIFA, the second-weakest team coming into the Gold Cup tournament and a country that has never reached the World Cup finals.

Sounds like an easy victory for the US, right? They'll be lifting the Gold Cup by late Sunday afternoon for sure.

Don't pop the champagne yet, fellow US soccer fans. Let us reflect on the European championship in 2004. The final featured Portugal, the pre-tournament favorite playing at home, vs Greece, one of the weaker sides in European soccer, which reached the World Cup for the first time in 2002 only to finish 32d out of 32 teams, without scoring a goal in three matches, which had NEVER won a match in a major championship, and for whom reaching the final was in itself a great accomplishment. In one of the major upsets in international sports, the blue collar Greeks beat the high-paid glamourous Portuguese side 1-0 to become Euro 2004 champions.

I'm sure coach Bruce Arena will remind the US team of this recent history. And I hope it isn't repeated!