England and USA in Round of 16 in World Cup 2022

USA's number 10 Christian Pulisic
USA's number 10 Christian Pulisic

In Group B of Qatar’s World Cup 2022, the USA defeated Iran 1-0 with a Christian Pulisic goal at the 38th minute. The win ensured the USA progress to the knockout stage as the second team in their group and thus will meet the top team from Group A, the Netherlands. The English defeated the Welsh 3-0 to ensure they progressed as the top team in Group B and will next meet Senegal, the second team to progress from Group A.

The English outplayed the Welsh who managed a single shot on target off of 35% of possession to The Three Lions’ seven shots on target and 65% of possession. The Welsh held the English off in the first half but in an 18-minute span of the second half Marcus Rashford at the 50th (on a beautiful free-kick goal) and 68th (a silly close-range goal scored between the legs of substitute goalkeeper Danny Ward), and Phil Foden at the 51st, off a childish Welsh mistake, sealed The Dragons’ fate. English coach Gareth Southgate made his substitutions from the 57-77th minutes ensuring several of his starters are fresh for their next match.

In a concurrent match, the USA outplayed the Iranians who only needed a draw to progress to the next round. The Persians chose to play defensively with the occasional counter while the Americans went all out on attack until they scored and then played a more measured game as their star player received a knee to the abdomen for his trouble in the game’s only score.

The 5’10” Pulisic returned to play the last dozen or so minutes, stoppage time included, after his horrific crash with Iranian keeper Alireza Beiranvand (6’4”) but did not return in the second half and was under medical care since leaving the field. Interviewed by FS1 right after the end of the match USA coach Gregg Berhalter summed up the match thus: “In the first half we showed what we can do soccer-wise. In the second half, we showed what we could do determination-wise. We are undefeated going into the knockout round.” Asked about an update on Pulisic he responded: “No update status-wise.” The accomplishments are a fact.

Papa’s Take

This was as important a game for the USA team as it was for US Soccer as a national project. The Americans failed to qualify for Russia 2018 and were certainly good enough on paper to have been at the event then. Today, they are among the middle ranks of the top two-dozen teams on the planet (at 16th) and needed to show they could hang with the likes of England (5), Wales (19), and Iran (20).

They have just about passed those tests, drawing 0-0 with the English and beating Iran 1-0. But they should have scored against England (Pulisic’s blast off the crossbar was just inches off), should have beaten Iran by 3-4 goals (they flubbed chances all by themselves without help from their opposition), and should have beaten the Welsh team they drew 1-1 with by a couple of goals too.

The good news is they won, and if they beat the Dutch (8th in FIFA rankings), they will have accomplished a feat worthy of their emerging world standing and set themselves up for the real USSF project’s objective—a stupendous showing in 2026. In this World Cup, beating Holland is the real attainable objective, even if afterward they go out at the next round when they might meet Argentina.

But between then and now they have to hope Pulisic heals and then the team as a whole has to review the tape of their performance today.

In that tape, they will see that they managed to lose the ball out of bounds 13 times when they were dribbling and were NOT under pressure. They muffed a 3-on-2 breakaway so badly that they didn’t get a shot off. They missed goal opportunities galore simply because the ball carrier did not lift his head to see where his teammates were on the field, and they passed the ball to their opponent or lost it to them simply via a lack of concentration.

The icing on the cake of the USA muffs was the replay of Timothy Weah’s run on the goal that was disallowed for offsides. Weah never looked to see where the Iranian defense was before making his run, the entire time he was looking backward toward Weston McKinnie, the originator of the pass. Had Weah looked at the Iranian defensive line (as every striker making a run should), he would have simply held his run a half second and the USA would have won by two goals. These are simply not acceptable lapses at the level they want to be playing at.

Finally, in this last game with the contest theirs to win, and perhaps twenty minutes left in the match, half of the time being stoppage, they ceded the ball to Iran who had chance after chance to score. They played silly passes, forgot to retain possession, and missed a cross by simply lifting the gaze up before kicking and letting the ball roll out of bounds uncontested! One Iranian score and we would be having a different conversation. It should never have been so difficult.

The USA now has the right players (and today Weston McKinnie, Sergino Dest, and Christian Pulisic were phenomenal), and in today’s starting lineup only Brenden Aaronson was missing. When he came in the forward line hummed, if Pulisic had been there with him the USA’s offense would have sung. The use of Cameron Carter-Vickers as a starter instead of Walker Zimmerman was inspired, and the timing of the second-half US subs was good too.  Bravo to Berhalter.

Note to Berhalter—you have now witnessed who should be in your starting lineup. If you don’t use the right players against the Dutch, any adverse match outcome is on you and not your players.

When the USA play the Dutch, who perform at a level below England’s, the USA have a chance to really showcase the national progression of the sport in their country. But they must win or reaching the Round of 16 will seem par for the course and nothing to crow about. But…to be in the deep end of the pool with the big boys, the USA have to win the games they are expected to win and a few they are not, or their national team will always remain among the cup’s non-contending participants. That is not a bad place to be, many a country are happy just to make it to the cup, but there are better seats at the table and the USA should earn one of them in their next match.

Netherlands—2—v—0—Qatar and Senegal—2—v—1—Ecuador

In the earlier matches of the day, the Netherlands defeated Qatar 2-0 leaving the hosts winless and with a -6-goal differential and Senegal defeated Ecuador 2-1, to clinch second place in Group A and progress with the Dutch to the Round of 16.

Photo: USA’s Christian Pulisic, Shutterstock ID: 1276171636, by MDI

Papa is at 16 correct and 20 incorrect game result predictions—a 44% success rate, pretty average.

 

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