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Upstart Takes on the World (Cup): Day 14

It was a 24 hours full of heartbreaking exits, and not just for the Socceroos, writes Evan Harding. But there's still hope going forward, and a new bidder for the 2018 World Cup.

It’s all over, as it had to be. Despite the euphoria of such a successful campaign last time around, a series of underwhelming results in recent months gave the end a sense of inevitability. Premature? Perhaps. Disappointing? Definitely to some. But at least there’s still someone else to follow.

Yes, it’s still hard to come to terms with Our Sam crashing out of Wimbledon, and to make it worse, Our Alicia has now followed her, in what was surely this morning’s biggest news story.

Apparently Our Socceroos lost as well, a horrifying 2-1 defeat over Serbia. For a while, at 2-0 up, Australia going forward looked thrilling. There was the sense that another goal wasn’t far away, and then just one more. They didn’t even need to be scored by Australia, with Germany leading Ghana 1-0, they could do the job. Even a 2-1 turnaround to Ghana would have done it.

But the fourth team, Serbia, was the next scorer when Mark Schwarzer’s addition to the list of goalkeeping blunders let Marko Pantelić in. The mood deflated, and it was curtains for the Aussies. They will rue the red cards, but even a 2-0 loss to the Germans (the score when Cahill was sent off) would have left the Socceroos behind Ghana on goal difference. Such scenarios – well you know the one about aunts, uncles and all that.

But really, we should mention an even more heartbreaking exit in the early hours of this morning. In a devastating blow, with razor-sharp efficiency that would make #RangaPM proud, Team America: World Beaters stole Slovenia’s second-round berth from under their noses. Sid Lowe once wrote that Real Madrid only needed 18 seconds to steal the La Liga title. The USA didn’t even need that long.

As the Group C teams entered injury time, England led Slovenia 1-0 after another example of why red is better, but with the USA and Algeria locked at 0-0, it was England and Slovenia to go through. The final whistle blew in Port Elizabeth and Slovenia could briefly have thought they were through anyway, but a glance to the other screen and a superb counter-attack from the Americans was about to break their hearts.

It nearly went the other way as Rafik Saïfi had a chance to pinch the win for Algeria but headed straight at Tim Howard. He threw to Landon Donovan who sprinted upfield, passed to Jozy Altidore, who sent in a cross. Algerian stopper Rais M’Bohli dived on it to prevent Clint Dempsey from scoring, but the ball fell to Donovan who tapped it in to give Team America the most dramatic of victories. The time it took from the ball to leave Howard’s hands and end up in the net at the other end? Just 11 seconds. Count it, although this may well be taken down in less than 11 seconds (The FIFA version only shows the finish).

All of a sudden, the USA topped the group, consigning England to a Round of 16 encounter with – wait for it – Germany. So it wasn’t all bad. And perhaps by then John Isner and Nicolas Mahut might have even stopped playing.

MUST-SEE: We know the next World Cup is being played in Brazil. But there has been a late entrant for the 2018 and 2022 editions: Middle Earth.

EYEBROW-RAISER: A South Korean fan has drowned after jumping in a river to celebrate his nation qualifying for the second round of the World Cup. Yes, it’s tragic, and of course it’s a stupid way to go, but hang on… South Korea… fan… death… Er… Take it away, Wikipedia!

REASON TO CHEER ON DENMARK: You have to love the Danes. They built a bridge to Sweden, but it had to become half a tunnel. So they had to build an island. There was another island nearby called Saltholm (Salt Islet) so they called the new one Peberholt (Pepper Islet). Then there’s Nicklas Bendtner. Barely a match goes by when he doesn’t produce a laughable miss. That kind of entertainment should last. Oh, and Lars Ullrich is Danish.

REASON TO CHEER AGAINST DENMARK: It used to be about the music, man! And that Copenhagen conference was a winner, wasn’t it?

TONIGHT: Group E has the midnight slot as Denmark meet Japan for a place in the second round. The Netherlands have already qualified and may rest some injured stars against Cameroon, although there has been speculation that Arjen Robben may return. Japan’s victory over Cameroon was a surprise but they showed admirable resiliency against the Netherlands and can be expected ot provide resistance to Denmark. For the Danes, it’s not quite the ‘Danish Dynamite’ of the 80s but Denmark have undeniable quality through the midfield. They should be too good: Denmark 1-0 Japan, Netherlands 1-1 Cameroon. Later it’s New Zealand looking to complete their incredible run by qualifying from their group against all expectations. They meet Paraguay, who impressed defensively against Italy in their first match and offensively against Slovakia in their second. This could be one bridge too far. Then it’s Italy looking to avoid disaster (the likes of France 2002, rather than France 2010) against Slovakia. The Azzurri have looked a bit old and slow, to be frank, but expect them to sneak through unconvincingly: Slovakia 0-1 Italy, Paraguay 2-0 New Zealand.

Evan Harding is co-producer of The Contenders Daily Bite, a daily World Cup short which can be seen on Tribal Football. A Master of Global Communication student at La Trobe University, he is an upstart editor armed with a month’s supply of coffee and a chance to still make back the money certain to be lost on an ill-conceived bet on France. Previous World Cup columns can be found here.

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