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Soccer

World Cup kicks off with U.S. promising fans exciting future

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Since England and the United States were drawn into Group B together for the 2022 World Cup, the matchup had been the topic of much scrutiny and excitement. 

The match was compelling on many fronts. The English are the nation perhaps most synonymous with soccer, or football, as they refer to it. Yet, despite their love for the sport, they haven’t found much success in international tournaments. In their long history, England have never won the Euros and has won just one World Cup. 

Meanwhile, the United States and soccer have never had a flourishing relationship: according to most studies, soccer is the fifth most popular sport in the country. Obviously, the United States has not had much international success either – their best finish was third place at the first World Cup ever played in 1930. 

In recent international tournaments, England has achieved quality results. In the most recent World Cup, held in 2018, the British reached the semi-finals and finished fourth in the tournament. In the COVID-delayed Euro 2020, they reached the final but lost to Italy in heartbreaking fashion. 

Their American counterparts have not had nearly as much success. The United States failed to even qualify for the 2018 World Cup after losing to Trinidad and Tobago, a nation with the population of Rhode Island. This loss prompted massive change, resulting in the U.S. fielding the second youngest team in this World Cup. 

England is led by star striker Harry Kane, as well as standout young players Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham, while the United States’ premier talent is Hershey, Pennsylvania-born attacker Christian Pulisic. 

The English and the United States had very different starts to the tournament. England soared to a 6-2 victory over Iran, in which five different players scored, including a brace from Bukayo Saka.   

Meanwhile, the Americans drew 1-1 to Wales. The U.S. dominated the first half, culminating in a 36th minute goal from Tim Weah, son of star Liberian striker George Weah. The U.S. held this lead until the 82nd minute when Nashville SC defender Walker Zimmerman fouled Welsh star Gareth Bale in the penalty box. Bale stepped up to the spot and converted easily, tying the game, where it would remain until the final whistle. 

Going into the match on Black Friday, the conversation among British pundits was not whether England would win, but how much they would win by. This set the stage for a contentious affair, to be sure, but one that most believed the British would win easily. 

The first 15 minutes of the match seemed to prove the pundits correct – England dominated play, resulting in a golden chance for Harry Kane in the middle of the box that Walker Zimmerman barely managed to block with his legs. 

Against all odds, however, around the 20-minute mark, the United States began to take control of the game. Weston McKinnie, a 24-year-old Juventus midfielder, had a great opportunity to put the ball in the back of the net from inside the box in the 26th minute but instead sent it into the 20th row of the crowd. In the 32nd minute, Christian Pulisic unleashed a shot from long range, barely escaping the back of the net and hammering the crossbar. 

The second half was duller, primarily controlled by the British with the help of substitutes Jack Grealish and Jordan Henderson, containing very few chances for either team. When the whistle blew for full-time, the scoreboard read 0-0. 

While the result was not awful for either side, especially the Americans, it was not awe-inspiring either. The British still have control of the group with four points, while the United States faces a must-win game against Iran on Tuesday.

England manager Gareth Southgate preached levelheadedness postgame, stating, “We have to stay calm in these tournaments.” 

“We’ve been through this before,” Southgate said. “I’m sure there will be a lot of noise – this is the tournament of external noise. But we’re on track.” 

United States manager Gregg Berhalter, meanwhile, expressed pride in his side, but also warned against complacency, stating “Our work’s not done. We have to win on Tuesday. We know five points gets us in and we have to focus on the five points.” 

While they did not manage to secure the victory, the extremely young United States side proved they can compete with, and even outplay one of the premier teams in the world. Despite the general indifference of the American people, its soccer team appears to have a bright future. 

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