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Losing sleep over soccer

On Friday morning, around 9:30, I felt like I had just played an all-out game of soccer. I was drained, both physically and mentally. Of course, I hadn’t slept in more than a day, but the main reason was the soccer match I had just watched.

My home team, Germany, prevailed against the United States in a match that left me scratching my head. Germany did not deserve to win. The United States played its best game yet but failed to score a single goal for the first time in this World Cup. Germany had two scoring chances and buried one, hitting the post on the other. The U.S. boys had chance after chance but weren’t able to put the ball in the back of the net.

This is what still separates the U.S. team from the traditional soccer-powers of the world – killer instinct. The United States dominated a German team that was afraid to lose. Only a handful of times did the Germans display their superiority in playmaking. They were outhustled, outrun and outplayed by the Americans. Only their goalkeeper and their incredible discipline on defense held the thin lead they had obtained on a textbook header late in the first half.

The United States began the game concentrated and enthusiastic. They knew they could win. The Germans rarely made it out of their own half or held the ball longer than a few seconds. The United States’ speedy forwards created chance after chance and wasted them all.

I will admit that the Americans were the better team on Friday, that they played the better game and that maybe they deserved to win. But I am very, very glad that they didn’t. Not only because I am German, but for other reasons, as well.

The U.S. team played a magnificent World Cup. They got off to a great start by beating Portugal, then tied co-host South Korea. With a lot of luck, they advanced into the knockout round, where they shut out archrival Mexico. The team was clearly on a roll, but where was the support here at home? I never saw a single American jersey (which looks pretty cool by the way) or heard anybody talk about the World Cup.

The significance of this tournament is still lost on too many Americans. In other countries, days on which their team played became holidays, and wins brought about daylong street fests and parades. This is the biggest and most prestigious sporting event in the world. Yes, more important than the Super Bowl or the World Series.

One could probably say that the team deserved to advance, but the country didn’t. A win would not have found the appropriate appreciation. The run to the quarters may have been just enough to create enough interest and enthusiasm to allow this wonderful sport to grow on more Americans. I know of several who watched their first match Friday morning.

As far as the World Cup goes, there are now four teams left. Germany will meet the impressive South Koreans on Tuesday morning, and Turkey will go against heavily favored Brazil on Wednesday.

Germany and Brazil have been in 11 finals, but have never met in one. South Korea and Turkey have already made history by coming further than they ever have. Maybe this is going to be the soccer of the new millennium. The gap between the powerhouses and the other teams certainly has become smaller. Upsets are more and more frequent, and soon they won’t be considered upsets anymore.

Brazil has made it this far and might very well win it all because they are hands down the best team in the World Cup. Its dominating win against England was more than impressive. Germany is in the semis because it hasn’t made any big mistakes, which has always been its strength. It has only allowed one goal in five games while scoring 13.

Meanwhile, the United States is going home. Full of pride, I hope. This team has come a long way, and it will only get better. In four years, when the World Cup will be played in Germany, the young players will have become pillars with more experience. Germany will be tough to beat on its own turf, but maybe, just maybe, the United States will have figured out how to put the ball away in big games by then.

The prospects for this team are exciting, and the sky is the limit. Wouldn’t it be great if Americans had their team’s back next time?