Czech Republic 3-0 USA
There’s been a lot of talk recently about the possibility (or indeed likelihood) of the USA launching a serious challenge for the World Cup. It’ll keep coming every time until they actually do, and it seems to be based more on the fact that America is the richest country in the world, rather than on any substantial evidence. The fact remains that there are no American players at the richest clubs in the world (this the point at which, on messageboards, Americans butt in and helpfully add that Fulham is one of the richest clubs in the world because Mohammad Al-Fayed owns Harrods), and that they lack experience at the top level. Their own league, the MLS, is by a country mile the most stable football league America has ever had, but (even though it has a draft system, and was set up with the single aim of providing a solid basis for a strong international team) it would barely make the top twenty best leagues in the world.
That said, the Czechs are a strong team. When Koller ambles into the penalty area, Frankenstein’s-monster-like, to put them ahead after seven minutes, you kind of got the feeling that it was going to be a walk-over. Although the Americans were unfortunate when when Claudio Reyna (the only player in these finals that I’ve ever spoken to, fact fans) hit the post with the score at 1-0, they were, in truth, well beaten. In fact, on the basis of the first half of the Italy-Ghana match (that I’m watching as I write this), I think that they’re going to struggle to get a point in this group. Koller’s injury was very unfortunate – he was just recovered from injury and is now expected to be out for the remainder of the tournament – but it didn’t seem to upset the Czechs, largely because the game was about to become The Thomas Rosicky Show.
As Alan Hansen would say, Rosicky has got the lot. Strength, pace, good in air, excellent shooting… It’s difficult to assess whether hes’s going to go on to be one of the stars of the tournament, because the American defence seemed quite happy to give him as much space as he needs, but he’s had a great start and will get a bigger test against Italy. As for the Americans… well… when they played Czechoslovakia in 1990, they lost 5-1. At least it wasn’t as bad as that.