Fill a room with 100 Soccer fans from either side of the Atlantic and I doubt that even half of them would have ever heard of Belo Horizonte , let alone its significance in the progress of the sport in England and the US . It was of the course the site of probably the USA’s most famous victory on the soccer field ( right up until that 2-0 win over Spain at the Confederations Cup earlier this year) , and , definitely England’s worst ever defeat in a World Cup. It was World Cup 1950
The “Game of Their Lives” as it was titled ( or “The Miracle Match” as it was called when they changed the name) by Hollywood when they made a movie about the game in 2005 , was brought to the forefront last week in South Africa when England and the USA were drawn together in Group C of the first round of the 2010 World Cup.
Let’s briefly take a look back at that famous game and then fast forward to June 12th in Rustenberg next year.
First , let’s put a couple of urban myths to rest . The US team was not “recruited from Ellis Island” as one British newspaper claimed after the result . FIFA cleared all the US players to play for their country as nationals before the tournament began . The second misunderstanding is the one that suggests the England team was made up of reserve players . That statement couldn’t be further from the truth . Granted , Stanley Matthews , widely regarded as the best player in the world at that time , was unavailable as he had only just finished touring Canada with another group of English players . No substitutes were allowed in those days so he sat on the bench . However , on the field that day were , Alf Ramsay, Billy Wright , Tom Finney , Wilf Mannion , Stan Mortenson , and Jimmy Dickinson among other starters . This group belonged in any top XI of it’s day . The US team was made up of semi pro’s , who had day jobs . Mail carriers , schoolteachers etc.
To fully understand how monumental a result that was , you have to appreciate the mentality of the English game in 1950 . World Cup 1950 was England’s first trip to the Finals , not because they couldn’t qualify but because they didn’t want to . The men in the ivory towers felt that the English player was far superior to anyone else in the game and didn’t need to prove himself out on the field of play . The USA was seen as an easy warm-up game before the “real”tournament started. Prior to the World Cup , the England team had only lost 4 games out of 30 in the preceding post-war period , whereas their opponents had conceded 45 goals in their last 7 internationals . The US coach , Bill Jeffery , simply said ,”We have no chance”.
The video below is a brief German report of the game Remember , people no internet or HD in those days ! ( Sorry for the poor quality – I don’t speak German either. )
The game that day went as most one-sided match-ups go with England having the majority of the possession but failing to put the ball in the net . In the 38th minute , Joe Gaetjens scored with a header to put the USA up 1-0 . The rest of the game was dominated by the English but , in soccer , sometimes the harder you push , the easier it is for the other team to defend . At the final whistle , neither team could believe what had happened . Even the British press refused to accept the scoreline with one famous newspaper believing the score to have been a misprint error in the telegram and so published a 10-0 England victory in their morning edition. Most US newspapers didn’t even report the match except for one article in the St Louis Dispatch .
What was the fall-out from this result ? Certainly in England it was a deep humiliation that reached the core of the game and some historians suggest that this signaled the demise of their dominance in football . Some years later in 1953 , the Hungarian team came to Wembley Stadium and embarrassed the home team 6-3 . Six months later , in Budapest the Hungarians again hammered England 7-1 . The honeymoon was over……………
Back in the USA , the victors received a cool welcome as the sport of football was restricted to major cities and mostly ethnic communities . It wasn’t until 1990 that the USA returned to the World Cup stage.
Fast forward to 2010 . Both teams qualified relatively comfortably although the USA did need a last minute equalizer against Costa Rica in the penultimate game to ice their spot in South Africa . England topped their group scoring the most goals out of all the qualifying teams .
The question now is , can the USA beat England again .
The facts are that neither team needs to win this game as two teams go through to the last 16 from each group and Algeria and Slovenia are considered to be the weaker of the 4 teams . However , there is much more at stake than just the result . No team wants to lose its first game in World Cup play as it then puts enormous pressure on the final two games . Just ask France , Argentina and Germany who in the past have all lost their opening games to ” weak” opposition and then struggled to get out of their Group .
The USA team is a much different opponent from that of past World Cups . A lot of their players play in European leagues now and the MLS has a more talented player-base. They compete on a regular basis with the top stars of the sport across three Continents . Their coach , Bob Bradley , is an accomplished tactician who has had success in the MLS , and has also led the US to a 2nd place finish to Brazil in the Confederations Cup in 2008 . The squad has a lot of experience to draw on which is vital in order to progress to the next stage of the tournament .
England are enjoying somewhat of a revival over the past 2 years since the debacle of Euro 2008 qualifying under Steve McClaren ( unfairly dubbed ‘The Wally with the Brolly” after standing under the pouring rain underneath an umbrella whilst his team lost to Croatia 3-2 and were unceremoniously dumped out of the Euro Finals that year.
Current coach Fabio Capello is a hard driving , no-nonsense , perfectionist who has had success everywhere he has coached . He has the team playing with confidence again which will be crucial if they are to be successful in South Africa.
Inevitably the game will come down to style and tactics . In my opinion , the US plays a much stronger game when faced with teams such as Portugal , Spain , Brazil and France . Those teams play a more technical style and rely less on some of the physical aspects of the game . They allow you to play and you have a chance if you can stop them from scoring . England fall into the same category as Germany , Italy , and most of the eastern European countries . They rely more on strength and power and their players are usually physically dominating . They don’t score many goals but concede very few .
If the USA , can be solid defensively , cut the mistakes to a minimum , and score early against England , they will have a great chance to win as confidence will start to seep away from the English players .
Again , understand that it is not the end of the world for either team if someone loses , but a win will almost certainly guarantee a spot in the next phase given the standard of Slovenia and Algeria .
The game should be very entertaining and definitely one of the picks of the first phase of the competition . Both countries will enjoy tremendous support out in Rustenberg and there will be a great atmosphere before , during and after the game. One little known fact I unearthed the other day is that the country which has purchased most tickets to the tournament to date is the USA . A whopping 84,000 tickets sold . England fans are in 2nd place with 48,000 tickets purchased.
Certainly , more of a spectacle awaits us next year than that special day in Belo Horizonte………………….